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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BA Geography

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BA Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Peatlands Under Pressure

Unit code GEOG30231
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Environment, Education and Development
Available as a free choice unit? Yes



Globally, peatlands support a range of ecosystem services including food provision, water regulation and climate change mitigation. However, peatlands face an uncertain future. Over the last 1000 years much of the UK’s blanket peat has become severely degraded, impacting its ability to function and support these essential services. The IPCC identifies peatlands as particularly vulnerable to future land use and climate change, and the instability seen in the UK may become more widespread in the future. Understanding and preserving these systems is therefore of vital importance, which is why it is one of the major research focusses of Geography @ Manchester.


The course unit will focus on this research, combined with case studies from the wider literature to introduce the key concepts and issues of peatland science. Through a combination of lectures, seminars and fieldwork we will highlight the need for solid scientific grounding in peatland management and policy development, and the importance of effective communication between researchers and stakeholders. 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 in peatland management. We will visit the department’s research catchment in the Peak District where students will carry out their own field projects, giving them hands on experience of research design, and field and lab techniques.


For more information on the peatland research carried out by the department and examples of themes covered in the course unit, please visit the Upland Environments Research Unit’s webpages:


  • •        To understand how peatland environments function.

    •        To explore the recent history of the British uplands in order to appreciate the impact of human activity and climate change has on these fragile environments.

    •        To design and execute a field project which will build on and feed into ongoing research in the department.

    •        To gain a scientifically grounded understanding of upland environmental management, focussing on the three key issues of carbon, fire, and restoration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should:

•        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 upland systems to their present day functioning.

•        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.

•        Be aware of the key issues surrounding ongoing research and management of the uplands today.

•        Be able to contribute in an informed manner to debates about the use and management of upland environments. 




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 students to build on the introductory material to design and execute their own problem-based field 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.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

•        Project design

•        Critical reading of scientific literature

•        Field work

•        Laboratory analyses

•        Team work

•        Synthesis and presentation of data

•        Evaluation of scientific evidence and output  


Assessment methods

The course is assessed by:

•        Literature review submitted mid semester (20%)

•        Project report submitted near the end of the semester (45%)

•        Written examination at the end of the semester (35%) 

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

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

Bonn, A., Allott, T., Hubacek, K. & Stewart, J. (Eds) (2009) Drivers of Environmental Change in Uplands. Abingdon, Routledge.

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].



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 Pollution

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
Emma Shuttleworth Unit coordinator

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