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Scotland’s peatlands: what’s all the fuss about?
Over one fifth of Scotland’s land area is covered by peatlands - predominantly blanket bogs. The most extensive areas are found in the northern and western Highlands and Islands, with those in Caithness and Sutherland among the largest and most intact in the world today. Raised bogs are mostly confined to lowlands in the Central Belt and Grampian Plain.
We are coming to realise the importance of our peatlands. As stores of carbon they are important in helping to tackle climate warming and as the raw ingredient of rural farming, tourism and crofting they are vital to the economy. They also offer a role in flood regulation and water quality and support nationally and internationally important biodiversity.
Peatlands are threatened by a number of human activities; notably drainage for agriculture and forestry, over-grazing, burning and more recently by some renewable energy developments. In the past, peatlands were regarded as having little value and policy actively drove their destruction with the aim to encourage more “productive uses.” This has led to a situation where many of the benefits described above have been lost or could be lost in the future. Indeed, many of Scotland’s bogs are already in poor condition and as such could benefit from restoration of some kind.
Peatland Restoration in Scotland: the policy context
Peatland restoration has multiple aims and multiple potential benefits. The Land Use Strategy (LUS), required by section 57 of the Climate Change Act, sets in place a vision for the better integration of different types of land uses in Scotland. Although the strategy encourages multiple uses, it specifies that where land is highly suitable for one primary use (such as carbon storage) this value should be recognised in decision making. Peatlands are specifically mentioned for their importance in the context of climate change. Proposal 9 of the LUS is to develop a methodology to take account of changes in soil carbon for: carbon accounting purposes;
improved understanding of potential benefits from conservation and management of carbon rich soils; and
delivering measures to help secure long-term management of all land-based carbon stores.
The Scottish Government published its Second Report on Proposals and Policies setting out how it would meet its emissions targets. It includes a number of references to the role of peatlands in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; specifically noting scientific, partnership and restoration challenges. These are currently being addressed by the National Peatland Plan (currently out for consultation) led by SNH and a wide group of stakeholders.
SNH’s Peatland ACTION project is taking the restoration challenge head-on
As lead adviser to the Scottish Government on peatland restoration Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was allocated £5 million from the Green Stimulus Package for spend in 2014/15. The “Peatland ACTION” project was set up with SNH administering the funding to:
The last formal applications deadline was on the 11th of June 2014, and the project was in receipt of 47 new applications reflecting continued interest in peatland restoration across the Scottish land management sector.
Peatland ACTION has kick-started the draft National Peatland Plan’s restoration quest, and will continue beyond March 2015 in an awareness raising and facilitating role. Once available the new Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) will become the main method of funding to restore and manage peatland habitats. You can contact the Peatland ACTION team by email: PeatlandACTION@snh.gov.uk and we would love to hear your views on the National Peatland Plan - view the consultation here.
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