Peatlands in need of more loving care

editorial image

Leading nature conservation charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, welcomed Dr Aileen McLeod, the minister for environment, climate change and land reform, at Carsegowan Moss in Galloway this week to see how the Peatland Action Fund is being used to improve these vital habitats.

The trust has used a pioneering technique, known as peat bunding, which involves using very low ground-pressure excavators to remove the damaged surface layers of peat. Deeper peat is then used to build up a low embankment to hold back and slow the flow of water from the site.

Scotland’s peatlands are internationally important forms of habitat, not only for their wildlife value but also for the wider benefits they provide to society, including water purification, carbon capture and storage.

Peatlands are particularly fragile and sensitive, so it is imperative that effective management is put in place if they are to continue to provide all their invaluable services. The restoration and enhancement of these ecosystems will also increase society’s resilience to climate change.

Historically, peatlands were drained for agriculture, dug up for peat or planted with conifer trees. Unfortunately, this means that across Scotland lowland bogs , including the Borders, are in urgent need of restoration, with more than 90 per cent of sites in a damaged state.

Dr McLeod, said: “The Scottish Government recognises the importance of the benefits which peatlands provide and has allocated £15 million for peatland restoration.

“Peatlands are vital for providing ecosystem services such as water purification, flood prevention, helping to confront the challenges of climate change and improving biodiversity.

“The 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity therefore includes a commitment to restore Scotland’s peatlands and I am delighted to see such action taking place throughout Scotland.”

Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust would like to thank the minister for taking the time to see first-hand how the Scottish Wildlife Trust is using the Peatland Action Fund to save unique places, such as Carsegowan Moss.

“Peatlands, vital natural capital assets, have been neglected for far too long and it is good to see the Scottish Government investing in restoration.

“However, in order to safeguard these vital habitats for the future, much more needs to be done to turn what is currently a liability on Scotland’s balance sheet into a water, carbon and wildlife asset for future generations.”

The Scottish Wildlife Trust believes that peat should not be extracted for horticultural purposes and as such does not, and will not, use any peat products at any of its reserves visitor centres or offices.

The trust also believes:

• The use of peat in soil improvers should be stopped immediately.

• There should be a target of zero peat in growing media for amateur use by 2016.

• There should be a target of zero peat in growing media for commercial use by 2020.

• Retailers and consumers should be helped to switch to peat-free media through clear labelling, advice and encouragement.

• There should be no new peat extraction sites, and existing sites should be restored to as near favourable condition as possible.

• Current licences should be reviewed and, if necessary, their conditions enforced.