The radiocarbon age and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from a northern peat-dominated river system was studied and the effects of land-use were compared. Samples were obtained from streams and ditches comprising sub-catchments of the Kiiminki River, Northern Finland. Sample sites included areas of natural mire, areas subjected to moderate disturbance (ditching to enhance forestry), and areas subjected to serious land use change (agriculture and peat excavation). The study employed a 55 day bioassay that measured the biodegradation potential of surface-water DOM. We identified release of modern (mean 6–13 year old) DOM from natural sites, and material aged up to 1,553 years from disturbed sites. The proportion of biodegradable DOC ranged from 4.1 to 17.9 %, and bacterial DOC removal was modelled using twin-pool and reactivity-continuum (beta distribution) approaches. Bacterial growth efficiency ranged from 0.11 to 0.26 between areas of different land use, and these relatively low values reflect the humic-rich DOM released from boreal peatland. Despite the range of land-use types studied, including intensive peatland excavation areas, there was no detectable relationship between the biological lability of DOM and its radiocarbon age.