World Wetlands Day - Restoring a globally important habitat
Forestry and Land Scotland’s (FLS) ongoing work to restore a globally important habitat is being celebrated as part of World Wetlands Day (2 Feb).
Blanket bog is a type of habitat found on peatland soils in cool, wet upland areas in maritime climates. It covers 23 per cent of Scotland’s land area and is rarely found elsewhere in the world.
In the past, its importance as a carbon sink and as unique habitat was less well understood and large areas were often drained and ploughed for tree planting.
This would dry out the peat and impact on the habitat formerly used by birds such as Golden plover, Greenshank, Hen harrier and Black grouse, and by many other animals and plants. The changes also impacted on water quality, on flood management and resulted in the peatland acting as a carbon source, contributing to climate change.
But as knowledge and understanding of peatland habitats evolved work was begun to reverse this.
FLS Chief Executive, Simon Hodgson, said:
“World Wetlands Day is a great way to help maintain everyone’s focus on the importance of restoring these habitats.
“This hugely important work is helping secure our carbon stores - changing peatlands from sources of carbon to carbon sinks – and is an integral part of Scotland’s contribution to tackling the global climate emergency, and furthering the Scottish Government pledge to make Scotland a net-zero emissions country by 2045.
“It is also adding substantial value to the scale of the contribution we make to our environment, to biodiversity, water quality, and to the people of Scotland.
“We started peatland restoration work over 20 years ago at Longbridgemuir near Dumfries and since 2014 have ramped up our restoration work across Scotland, removing trees, blocking drainage ditches and restoring the naturally high water table.
“Perhaps the best known place that we are working/have worked on is the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland, an unparalleled blanket bog habitat that is currently being considered as a potential World Heritage Site."
Over the past six years FLS has begun this positive work on peatland sites all over Scotland, starting the process of restoring over 3000 hectares of afforested land, and 3,000 hectares of threatened open peatland.
In this last year alone it has worked to restore over 1,000ha of open and tree-covered peatland (work that began just after the end of the first COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020), with six sites already completed, with a further 9 sites on track to be finished before the end of March 2021.
These transformational landscape-scale restoration projects can be found mainly in the Highlands, with another on the Isle of Skye, and one in Moray.
This restoration work has been funded by Scottish Government and the Nature.Scot Peatland Action Fund, as part of the Scottish Government’s £250 million commitment to peatland restoration projects over the next ten years.
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Additional: FLS uses a range of techniques (developed initially by FLS, Scottish Power Renewables and Forest Research) to remove trees, recover more timber, and to smooth out and ‘re-wet’ sites. The aim is to restore the water table to its optimal high level, which will allow the plants and mosses that are only found on healthy peatlands, to recover.
This should ensure that the peatlands stop acting as emitters of greenhouse gases, and become a reliable store of carbon, thereby helping to reduce the amount of change to our climate.
Tackling climate change is a long term effort, but the wider benefits of restoration begin to show very quickly. At one 130ha site – Gow Moss, near Fochabers in Aberdeenshire – plant and animal life that thrives on peatlands began to re-establish within one year, including species such as the Hairs tail cotton grass, and birds such as lapwings and curlews which set up nesting territories in the Spring. (These are in decline in Scotland). Increases in other bird species - such as skylarks, and meadow pipits – have also been noticed at Gow Moss.
In Caithness, our work has not only benefited the hydrology and ecology of the restored blanket bog, but has also improved water quality in the adjacent River Oykel, a Special Area of Conservation that’s internationally important for salmon and other valuable aquatic life.
At the other end of the country, Galloway has areas of important blanket bog. Here, our foresters have blocked more than 5,000 metres of drains at Silver Flowe National Nature Reserve and Eldrick Hill to improve the hydrological condition of the blanket bogs.
Scottish Government has an ambitious climate change programme that recognises the role that both woodland and peatlands can play in absorbing carbon dioxide and minimising greenhouse gas emissions. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy also includes peatland habitats as priorities for protection and conservation action. FLS is developing a Peatland Restoration Strategy to direct the restoration of all the degraded peatland on the land that it manages.
Notes to editors
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.