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Published: 1 Jun 2021

Standards 5-7: Soil, carbon, water

Wild land provides many ecosystem services, such as clean air and fresh water, that are essential for everyday life.

The careful protection of soil and water is fundamental to wild land management – this includes the protection of peatlands, which are an important carbon store. Overgrazing and muirburn, which can damage habitats and the underlying soil, should be avoided.

Flood regulation works according to the land’s capability to absorb rainfall and release it slowly over time. The natural capability of wild land to hold water in the upper level of the catchment area is a valuable ecosystem service. Drainage or felling operations that could exacerbate flood conditions downstream should be avoided.

5. Maximise water tables on peatlands

Peat forms in waterlogged conditions where the lack of oxygen prevents micro-organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, from rapidly decomposing dead plant material. A range of plants have adapted to thrive in peat bogs and in some cases grow nowhere else.

It is essential to retain rainfall in peatlands to protect their biodiversity and to prevent the release of CO2 which happens as a result of their drying out. Drained peatland should be restored by raising the water table. This can be achieved by using peat and natural materials to form dams or by the use of plastic piling.

6. Minimise exposure, burning & grazing

Removing vegetation exposes soil to the air where it’s vulnerable to damage. Wind and water cause soil erosion, removing the organic layers and the potential to re-vegetate. Organic soils that are exposed to the air also release stored CO2.

Soil can also become exposed through overgrazing. The level of grazing that can lead to exposed soil varies depending on the type and sensitivity of the habitat. High altitude habitats can take a lot of time to recover and are vulnerable to high levels of herbivore grazing. See Deer & livestock for more on this.

Muirburning can be damaging to both habitats and the underlying soil, potentially causing oxidisation and erosion. In principle, burning should be avoided for visual and environmental reasons. However, where benefits to habitats can be demonstrated through burning, the practices described in government guidance and codes should be treated as a minimum standard of environmental protection.

7. Minimise pollution

Pollution can be categorised as point source pollution – where the source is identifiable and the adverse effects are immediate – and diffuse pollution, where the source is not as obvious and the pollution may have travelled from a wide area through the soil or overland to the point where it causes a problem.

Organic litter such as food waste may also affect the composition of the soil as it breaks down. Pollution can also take the form of soil movement. Serious damage to fish stocks can be caused by siltation of rivers as a result of drainage, road construction or forestry operations.

In addition, remember to ensure that all waste is disposed of responsibly, ideally patrolling and collecting for litter on a regular basis – for example, carrying out regular beach cleans.

Useful links

IUCN UK: Peatland programme
Scottish Government Muirburn Code
Natural England / DEFRA guidance