MSc Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and Reconstruction

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Peatlands Under Pressure

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG60231
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Environment, Education and Development
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Peatlands are diverse environments. They span across all continents from the bogs, mires and permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere to tropical peat swamps in South East Asia and Africa. Peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stock, containing more than twice the carbon found in all the world’s forests. However, our peatlands face an uncertain future - the IPCC identifies peatlands as particularly vulnerable to future land use and climate change. Understanding and preserving these valuable environments is therefore of vital importance, which is why peatland science is a major research focus of Geography at Manchester.

The course unit will introduce the fundamental concepts and key issues of peatland science. Through a combination of lectures, seminars, and fieldwork you will learn about the physical processes that shape peatlands, and the importance of solid scientific grounding for effective peatland management and policy development. In particular, the role of the peatlands in terrestrial carbon cycling and flood mitigation will be explored, along with the controversies surrounding the use of fire as a management tool. We will visit the department’s research catchment in the Peak District where you will carry out your own field projects, giving you hands on experience of research design and field and lab techniques. [See section on Learning and Teaching Processes for details on COVID-19 accommodations]



  • provide an understanding of how peatlands form and function
  • explore the recent history of the UK peatlands to gain an appreciation of the impact of human activity and climate change on these fragile environments
  • design and execute a field project which will strengthen research design and analytical skills to aid dissertation research
  • provide a scientifically grounded understanding of peatland environmental management, focussing on the three key issues of carbon, fire, and restoration




Two Hour session

1 Hour Session



Introduction and History of Peatlands Lecture

Upland Habitats Lecture



Peat Erosion and Peatland Hydrology Lectures

Introduction to Coursework Projects



Project Workshop

Pollution in the Uplands Lecture



Fieldtrip to Bleaklow









Study week

Hand in literature review (20%)








Upland Management Lecture



Study week




Peatland Burning Seminar

Carbon Lecture

Feedback on project data (drop in session)


Carbon Conference (guest speakers)

Restoration Lecture



Restoration Seminar (guest speakers)

Revision Lecture

Hand in project report (45%)

Exam period

Exam - one essay (35%)


Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered through a combination of lectures, fieldwork, lab classes and seminars. The unit is divided into three blocks. Over the first three weeks the fundamental processes and issues will be introduced during lectures. This is followed by a series of workshops, fieldwork and lab classes, which will allow you to build on the introductory material to design and execute your own problem-based projects. Finally, during the last three weeks of term we revisit some key issues in more detail in lectures and seminars, including discussion sessions and talks from guest speakers.


COVID-19 accommodations

Although this module has a substantial field and lab component, the Intended Learning Outcomes can still be met if part/all of the module must move online:

•  A virtual field trip will replace the physical trip, which will ‘stop off’ at key points in the catchment using a mix of photos (and possibly videos), key readings, and structured questions to get you to engage with the processes at work (much like the physical trip!)

•  In place of samples collection and labwork, we will be able to draw on a wealth of existing data from the field site that you can work on for your projects. We will make use of a series of online practicals provided by the labs team to teach you about the field and lab techniques that were used to derive the data.

•  We will supplement lab time with online data analysis and presentation workshops, so you will still gain hands-on on experience of valuable practical skills.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the processes underpinning hydrological, geomorphological and ecological functioning of peatland systems.
  • Understand the processes controlling uptake and re-distribution of nutrients and pollutants in peatlands.
  • Appreciate the importance of the environmental history of peatland systems to their present-day functioning.
  • Be aware of the key issues surrounding ongoing research and management of peatlands today.

Intellectual skills

  • Contribute in an informed manner to debates about the use and management of peatland environments.
  • Review and summarise relevant material to provide rationale for a research project and construct a focussed literature review.
  • Understand the wider impact of peatland research in terms of management, working with stakeholders, and policy.

Practical skills

  • Be aware of the main techniques used to study peatland environments from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
  • Have a working knowledge of a range of analysis methods.
  • Analyse and present environmental data to an advanced standard

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Advanced data analysis and presentation, critical thinking, writing, communicating complex ideas, and self-directed learning
  • Confidence to critically engage with and contribute to key debates and controversies surrounding peatland management

Assessment methods

The course is assessed by:

  • Literature review submitted mid semester (25%), 800 words
  • Project report submitted near the end of the semester (75%), 2500 words
  • Formative feedback on data analysis

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

•        Continuous verbal feedback through discussion in lectures and seminars;

•        Ongoing verbal feedback on project work during workshops and lab classes

•        Verbal formative feedback on project data during drop in sessions;

•        Written feedback on the literature review and project report .

•        Verbal feedback on any course unit issue by appointment or during consultation hours.

Recommended reading

We will provide specific annotated reading lists for each lecture, but broad course texts include:

Bonn, A., Allott, T., Evans, M., Joosten, H., Stoneman, R. (Eds) (2016) Peatland Restoration and Ecosystem Services: Science, Policy and Practice. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Charman, D. (2002) Peatlands and Environmental Change. Chichester, Wiley.

Evans, M.G. & Warburton, J. (2007) The Geomorphology of Upland Peat: Erosion, Form and Landscape Change. RGS-IBG Book. London, Blackwell.

Van der Wal, R. et al. (2011) Chapter 5: Mountains, Moorlands, and Heaths. UK National Ecosystem Assessment in UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Technical Report [United Nations Environmental Programme–World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Cambridge, 2011].

Also articles in Mires and Peat, the journal of the International Peatland Society (IPS) and the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG).

PGT students will be expected to engage more deeply with the reading materials than UG students. PGT students will be guided to more advanced readings through the annotated reading lists.



Good overviews of the department’s work on pollution, carbon, and flood management can be found in the stakeholder resources links near the bottom of the Upland Environments Research Unit’s webpages:


Key Journals

Research on peatland environments spans several disciplines and can be found in a wide range of journals including (but not limited to):

Biogeosciences; Earth Surface Processes and Landforms; Environmental Pollution; Environmental Science and Technology; The Holocene; Hydrological Processes; Journal of Ecology; Journal of Hydrology; Science of the Total Environment; Water Air and Soil Pollut

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 4
Lectures 20
Practical classes & workshops 2
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 114

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Shuttleworth Unit coordinator

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