Austrian Peatland Strategy 2030+

One of the ALFAwetlands project countries is Austria, where Peatland Strategy is being implemented.

Austria’s Commitment to Wetland Conservation

Austria’s wetlands, particularly its swamps and peatlands, play a crucial role in the ecosystem, providing essential services such as water retention, filtration, and climate regulation. Recognising their importance, Austria has developed a comprehensive Peatland Strategy, aimed at protecting these vital natural resources. This Strategy is part of Austria’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention, which mandates the protection and responsible use of wetlands.

The Significance of Swamps and Peatlands

Healthy swamps and peatlands act as natural sponges, retaining and filtering large amounts of water, which positively impacts groundwater and other water bodies. These ecosystems also play a pivotal role in regulating the climate by storing carbon and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. However, various threats, including drainage, construction, eutrophication, inappropriate land use, and climate change, have led to a significant decline in these areas.

Current State and Challenges

In Austria, the exact area of peatlands is uncertain, but estimates suggest that approximately 30,000 hectares remain. Historically, many peatlands were drained for agriculture and forestry, or degraded through peat extraction. These practices, along with climate change, have caused substantial damage. The direct drainage of peatlands for agricultural purposes remains the primary threat, exacerbated by changing precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures.

Efforts to manage and protect these areas face numerous challenges. Extensive management practices are labor-intensive and often underfunded, leading to abandonment and further degradation. Inadequate management, such as heavy machinery use or inappropriate grazing, causes soil damage and erosion, further harming these delicate ecosystems.

Strategic Measures and Priorities

To address these issues, Austria has outlined six priorities in its Peatland Strategy 2030+:

  • Creating Basic Conditions for Protection: Establishing a framework for the protection of peatlands and peat soils
  • Safeguarding and Developing Peatlands: Implementing measures to preserve and restore these areas
  • Protecting Peat Soils: Ensuring sustainable use and conservation of peat soils
  • Reducing Peat Extraction and Imports: Promoting peat-free products in horticulture
  • Raising Awareness: Increasing public and political awareness about the importance of peatlands
  • Enhancing Expertise: Fostering knowledge and research on peatlands.

Restoration and Conservation Efforts

Austria has already undertaken various restoration projects, including rewetting peatlands, closing drainage ditches, creating bog ponds, installing dams to restore the water balance, preventing interventions in the peatlands and avoiding over-intensive grazing and tourism. These efforts aim to restore the natural water balance and support the biodiversity of these habitats. The strategy also emphasises preventing interventions that could disrupt the hydrology of peatlands and avoiding nutrient inputs and trampling damage from tourism and grazing.

Aligning with Global Goals

The Austrian Peatland Strategy 2030 aligns with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Intact peatlands contribute to multiple SDGs, including clean water (SDG 6), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). They offer natural solutions for flood prevention, carbon sequestration, and the preservation of unique species.

The Austrian Peatland Strategy 2030+ also comes into play in various other funding programmes of the EU; among them, the Habitat directive, the Alpine Convention, the Water Framework and Floods Directive,  the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and of course the Ramsar Convention. All of these programmes relate to nature conservation, sustainable agriculture and soil as well as water protection. While the Ramsar Convention is dedicated completely to wetlands, the CAP has integrated wetlands for the first time in the current funding period.

Moving Forward

Austria’s federal states are developing specific action plans to implement these strategies, focusing on improving data collection, raising awareness, and enhancing cooperation. Measures include creating a nationwide peatland map, promoting research, and establishing monitoring systems.

In conclusion, Austria’s Peatland Strategy is a critical step towards protecting and restoring its peatlands. By addressing the threats and implementing targeted measures, Austria aims to safeguard these vital ecosystems for future generations, contributing significantly to biodiversity, climate regulation, and sustainable development.

The Austrian Peatland Strategy can be found in German on the website of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and forestry, regions and water management of Austria.

This publication is prepared by Lisa Marie Mahlknecht from European Wilderness Society, ALFAwetlands project partner

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