50 for the Future – Peatland blanket bogs

© Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Clifton Bain, Director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, tells of the importance of Scotland's blanket bogs.

 

Number 8: Restore all peatland blanket bogs to secure valuable carbon storage, water quality and biodiversity benefits.

 

A blanket bog visit is a stimulating experience. Vast landscapes of moss carpets pierced by myriads of dark pools are interrupted only by the echoing calls of moorland birds.  Closer inspection reveals a miniature watery world with carnivorous plants and an intense array of colourful structures formed by the different plants. Even more incredible is the valuable role these peatlands have to play in regulating our climate and water supply as well as being a unique archive of our cultural and environmental past.

A peatland blanket bog © Norrie Russell

Over 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in Scottish peatlands – that’s a third of the carbon held in the Amazon rainforest despite being 250 times smaller in area.

Around 20% of Scotland’s land area is covered by blanket bog. The underlying peat is formed as the dead remains of mosses build up over thousands of years in the water logged conditions. Carbon removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis when the plants were alive stays locked up in the peat as long as the habitat is wet.  Over 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in Scottish peatlands – that’s a third of the carbon held in the Amazon rainforest despite being 250 times smaller in area.

Unfortunately the importance of our peatlands has long been unappreciated. For centuries they have been damaged by drainage, fire and grazing in an often unsuccessful attempt at economic gain from forestry and agriculture. Now, thanks to major research efforts, we have evidence of the true costs to society from damaged peatlands. Loss of biodiversity, the adverse effects of climate change and the impact on flood management and drinking water supplies all have a huge economic cost. Science also shows that repairing and rewetting damaged peatlands can halt and even reverse these effects. 

Sphagnum moss – the building blocks of peatlands © Pete Matthews

We are entering a new era where peatlands are being seen as valuable in their healthy state.  A partnership of policy science and land management, through the IUCN UK Peatland Programme which is chaired and hosted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, is helping to restore and better manage peatlands.  Some of our best protected blanket bogs such as the world famous Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland are showcase sites, offering a wonderful peatland experience and demonstrating restoration projects in practice.  Partnerships supported by Peatland Action grants from Scottish Natural Heritage enable coordinated action at a larger landscape scale.  These and other government funds are vital for the repair and management of peatlands but we urgently need more resources to tackle the huge scale of past damage.

The Peatland Code is a new initiative aimed at attracting businesses to join in with public investment in restoring peatlands. Through action now, we have the opportunity of delivering one of the great environmental outcomes of our time, avoiding the huge imposed costs of leaving our peatlands damaged and allowing future generations the pleasure of these natural wonders.

Let us know your thoughts by emailing thefuture@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.

by Clifton Bain, Director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme

Find out more about the IUCN UK Peatland Programme

Preface

In this week's 50 for the Future article, Clifton Bain, Director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, tells of the importance of Scotland's blanket bogs.

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