BSc Geography with International Study

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Peatlands Under Pressure

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG30231
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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. 


  • 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

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.



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.

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 a high standard

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • 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%)

•        Project report submitted near the end of the semester (50%)

•        Written examination at the end of the semester (25%) 

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 and written formative feedback on project data during drop in sessions;
  • Written feedback on the literature review, project report and exam.
  • Verbal feedback on any course unit issue by appointment or during consultation hours.

Recommended reading

We will provide specific 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).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 4
Lectures 20
Practical classes & workshops 2
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 164

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Ryan Unit coordinator
Emma Shuttleworth Unit coordinator

Return to course details