(Photo: An eroding peatland: an unnatural process which is typical of many damaged upland sites ©Emma Goodyer)
Scotland is a major player when it comes to peatlands. Covering 22% of its land mass, the country has moved to the forefront in driving restoration of this precious habitat, becoming a global leader. Despite this forward thinking, wider awareness of both the importance and the current state of peatlands remains an issue. An estimate suggests a 10% loss of Scottish peatlands would match the current total annual greenhouse gas emissions for the UK!
In recent history, peatlands have had a tough time. Drainage, burning, tree planting, peat digging (for fuel and garden use) and development have all taken their toll. Often considered in the past as wastelands prime for improvement, much of this activity was driven and actively encouraged by public policy and accompanying financial support, so it no surprise many land managers have been left confused as to the best route of action.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and experience has told us that activities to ‘improve’ peatlands have been largely unsuccessful at turning them into economic generators and, in fact, have led to several disadvantages to society as a whole. These include the release of carbon dioxide, poorer water quality and less retention of water in the uplands, and reductions in the diversity and richness of wildlife. Looking specifically at carbon, healthy peatlands simply lock dead plant matter, which is full of carbon, away. They act as a huge watery store that prevents decomposition. When peatland is eroded or drained, these dead plants, exposed to atmospheric oxygen, decompose as normal; a process which releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
This is particularly problematic when considering the 1000 years it takes for just one metre of peat to form. However, it is no reason to lose heart. Peatland restoration can bring about rapid benefits – stabilising the peat resource and stemming the loss of carbon. It is a highly effective solution that doesn’t necessarily mean loss of productive land and in terms of climate change mitigation is relatively cheap (£300 – £1000 per hectare). Financial support options have therefore been made available to support land managers do just that: restore their peatlands.
Traditionally funding for peatland restoration has been available through the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) with set rate payments available for limited activities such as grazing management and in the uplands, ditch blocking. However, with an estimated 70% blanket bog and 90% raised bog damaged by past and present management in Scotland, and ambitious Scottish Government targets of restoring 250,000 ha by 2032 announced in the current draft Climate Change Plan, the need for additional funding options to make that goal a reality has been recognised. Launched in March, the Government’s £8 million Peatland ACTION fund is available to communities and land managers for restoration work including re-wetting (ditch-blocking), hag reprofiling and the re-establishment of peat-forming vegetation. It also includes money to finance preparatory works, equipment and monitoring, addressing additional barriers some landowners face when trying to implement a restoration scheme. Open until 31st October 2017, applications are made through Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
In addition, the IUCN UK Peatland Programme has been developing the Peatland Code to take advantage of the UK’s current voluntary carbon market, worth $278 million globally (2015). The Peatland Code sets best practice standards for restoration projects wishing to market their climate benefits to private investors. This source of carbon finance can help ‘top up’ public funding for peatland restoration and ensure the restoration and associated benefits are maintained over the long term.
These funds are making peatland restoration a financially viable option for land managers keen to play a part in restoring their land to provide valuable services to society. For more information visit www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/peatland-code or www.snh.gov.uk/climate-change/taking-action.
The IUCN UK Peatland Programme is keen to know your thoughts on Scotland’s peatlands and their restoration and has designed a short survey. The outcome of the survey will be used to better direct our communications, research and policy. Participants will be entered into a prize draw to win a bottle of Weymss Malts The Hive, a 12 year old blended malt whiskey noted for its honeyed flavours.
This blog was written by Jillian Hoy from the IUCN Peatland Programme, with input from Mark Oddy, an independent Land and Property Consultant.