Today, peatlands somehow managed to get a reputation as wastelands in their natural state. Thus, they are often drained to transform them from a “useless” space into a “productive” space (i.e. agricultural space). Within this dominant perception of peatlands, the vital climate and ecological role that they offer, as well as their cultural and spiritual value, is not even considered part of the equation. In this paradigm, drainage = money and wet bog = no money.
So, you might ask, if you make your living off of drained peatlands, why would you leave this paradigm? Or more importantly, how could you? Luckily enough, there are many crops that can be grown on healthy peatlands; this type of agriculture is called “paludiculture”. The European Union, however, currently gives subsidies to farmers who practise ‘drainage-based-agriculture’, but does not offer subsidies to those who practise paludiculture. Not exactly encouraging, eh?
Then again, is it really just as simple as a lack of economic incentives?
Re-wetting large areas of land might indeed change the look, smell, feel, and identity of a place, and that idea could be very daunting. Imagine looking out of your window and not recognising the countryside you grew up with. For others, these drainage practices have been passed down through generations of families and have huge cultural significance. To suddenly start working in reverse could be really challenging to get your head around.
Without a doubt, relationships to the land are complex and hugely personal. But they are also cultural, and flexible. Perhaps through narratives and storytelling, we can find ways of re-imagining our peatlands. After all, it won’t be the first time.