Rights: The University of Waikato Published 15 April 2009 Download

In this video, Dave Campbell of the University of Waikato explains that peat bogs are special wetlands that are made up of decomposing plant materials.

In New Zealand, we have converted most of our wetlands to farming or agricultural land – draining the soils for more commercially productive uses. As scientists have learned more about the effects of increased carbon outputs, research has been done to see how the imbalance can be offset. Planting trees helps to absorb carbon that is released, for example, through the burning of fossil fuels

Peat bogs are the ultimate carbon store because the carbon is locked up in the bog for hundreds of years. This is one of the reasons scientists have come to realise that we need to protect wetlands.


New Zealand has, I think, one of the distinctions in the world of having destroyed a greater proportion of its lowland wetlands than just about any other country in the world. We only have 10% of our wetlands left. A peat bog – which is a special sort of wetland because it accumulates a lot of plant material in the form of peat – is a massive store of carbon. Most have been converted to farmland or forest for the simple fact that they existed in a part of the landscape which were easily converted to farmland, and the soils that were formed once the wetlands were drained were very valuable for farming. Scientists have put a huge amount of effort, in the last few decades, into trying to understand the global cycling of carbon and water and the incredible diversity that exists across the planet in different ecosystems. We are putting a lot of effort now into planting forest – we understand that we can offset carbon that is being released from fossil fuels and so on from planting trees. Well really, a peat bog is the ultimate carbon store, because at least if we have an intact peat bog, we know the carbon will be stored away for many, many centuries, whereas that is not true of a forest or a soil system where the carbon actually turns over quite quickly. So the more we understand about these other systems, where carbon cycling is also intrinsically important, the more knowledge we have about how we might mitigate climate change.

Brian Chudleigh
Jan Ramp, Snapper Graphics
KQED QUEST, some rights reserved
Peter Hall
The New Zealand Biotechnology Hub