School students investigate climate change in the Peak District

Friday 6 March 2009

Students from secondary schools in and around the Peak District National Park will take part in an investigation to better understand the role the park plays in climate change. Groups of students will measure the quality of the moorland as part of the Festival of Social Science which is organised by the Economic and Social Research Council from 6 - 15 March 2009.

Thirteen schools will participate with students from 11 to 18 years old gathering valuable information on the soil quality, the water table level and vegetation cover at various locations across the Peak District. The investigation, known as the Moorland Indicators of Climate Change Initiative, will see students test samples back at school as well as passing on information to scientists for further analysis. The research results will enable scientists to map the quality of the moorland in the Peak District and identify the areas that contribute to climate change and the areas that actually slow global warming.

The Peak District National Park Learning Team based at Losehill Hall near Castleton is running the experiments for the second year following the success of the initiative in 2008. "There has been an increased sense of ownership and responsibility by pupils for their local environment and the National Park and how it links to the global challenge of climate change," said Chris Robinson of the Peak District National Park Authority, who initiated the event. "The value of these visits for students has been increased by their experience in team work and outdoor learning."

The experiments will demonstrate the value of maintaining the UK's moorland in a good state. Well-vegetated moorland in good condition acts as a valuable carbon sink - absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases and thereby slowing climate change. The Peak District Moorlands currently stores between 16 and 20 million tonnes of carbon; and together with the rest of the UK's peat lands are the single largest carbon reserve in the UK - storing the equivalent of 20 years of UK carbon dioxide emissions.

However, human interaction in terms of direct erosion and fire worsen the condition of the moorland, with badly eroded areas of the Peak District releasing more carbon than they absorb. Researchers from the Moors for the Future Partnership, who will analyse the data gathered by the students, argue that peat land restoration activities in England and Wales could absorb around 400,000 tonnes of carbon a year. This is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 1.1 billion car miles or 84,000 family-sized cars per year.

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Notes for editors

  1. The Festival of Social Science is organised by the Economic and Social Research Council, and runs from March 6 - 15, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. It celebrates some of the very best British social science research, as well as highlighting the ways in which social science makes a difference to everyday lives. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website or for more information please contact the ESRC Press Office.
  2. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million.  At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.  
  3. Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities.  
  4. The Peak District National Park Learning Team based at Losehill Hall near Castleton has been offering environmental education activities for 30 years. Programmes are available for key stage 1 up to graduate level. The National Park Learning Team aims to increase young people's awareness of the natural environment and the role they have to play in its future.  
  5. Moors for the Future is a partnership project to restore large parts of the internationally important Peak District moors. Through a programme of new initiatives it aims to:
    1. raise awareness of why the moors are special and encourage responsible use and care of the landscape
    2. restore and conserve important recreational and natural moorland resources
    3. develop expertise on how to protect and manage the moors sustainably.