Associate Feature: Peatland restoration is a win for local communities, job creation, and nature and climate
Scotland has over two million hectares of peatland. It’s a unique habitat capable of storing vast amounts of carbon - on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than any other land-based ecosystem.
Functioning peatlands are also important for biodiversity, supporting a wide range of plants, birds and other species, as well as being a source of clean water and helping to reduce the likelihood of flooding downstream. They are part of Scotland’s iconic landscapes and cultural identity.
However, past drainage and management have damaged much of this peatland and it is now in such poor condition that instead of storing carbon, it is emitting greenhouse gasses.
We estimate that it is responsible for more than 10 per cent of Scotland’s total emissions, second only to transport in the list of largest of sources.
The good news is that we can repair and restore peatlands to a condition where they are functioning properly once again.
Creating wetter conditions to encourage the growth of active peat-forming plant species starts the process of changing the peatland from one that is emitting carbon to one that is actively storing it.
But the benefits of restored and functioning peatlands are wider than just carbon capture. For example, restoration improves the surface habitat leading to greater plant diversity and in turn higher numbers of invertebrates, a food source for birds such as grouse and other upland species.
Restored areas absorb and hold rainwater for longer than damaged areas before slowly allowing it to seep into river systems. This regulation of water flow is important as it reduces the likelihood of flooding downstream. It also helps alleviate issues associated with drought conditions such as wild fires.
Restoration reduces soil erosion helping to improve water quality at source, which is important for fisheries, and drinking water catchments.
And these broad benefits help to support our economy whether used in farming, tourism or crofting, or by indirectly benefiting whisky production.
The Scottish Government-funded Peatland ACTION programme provides advice and resources to deliver on-the-ground peatland restoration, funding multi-million pound large-scale projects over multiple years, as well as smaller community-based restoration projects.
The programme also monitors the impact of the work, which in turn allows us to understand the broad benefits.
Undertaking peatland restoration is a relatively new and growing sector. In the 10 years since the Peatland ACTION programme began, new techniques have been developed and refined, whilst in the process restoring more than 30,000 Ha of peatland.
Scottish Government Infrastructure Investment Plan funds of £250m are earmarked for peatland restoration over the next 10 years. Also, the likelihood that billions of pounds of funding will be required to help restore Scotland's 1.6 million hectares of degraded peatland, means that this is a growing industry.
In order to meet these ambitious targets NatureScot and the other Peatland ACTION delivery partners (Cairngorms National Park Authority; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority; Forestry and Land Scotland; and Scottish Water) are actively seeking to support landowners to get involved in peatland restoration and its sustainable management.
The partners recognise that this ambition needs to go hand in hand with a rapid development of the delivery industry. Working with organisations like the Crichton Carbon Centre, NatureScot is providing training, capacity building and guidance to contractors who will design the restoration schemes and undertake the capital work.
Whilst the broad benefits of peatland restoration are just coming to fruition, it is estimated that around 1,500 local and skilled jobs will be needed in peatland restoration over the next ten years. It has the chance to become a significant employer in rural and remote communities.
For example, skilled machine operators are a critical element of peatland restoration activity. Indeed, the civil engineering firms who are leading this work have developed specialist skills in restoration techniques and operating specialist machinery in this sensitive habitat.
This developing industry will create new opportunities for skills development and job opportunities. NatureScot is developing skills pathways to support the range of specialist and technical jobs needed for its growth.
This includes support for expanding the pool of highly skilled machine operators, but also the hydrologists, satellite data analysts, surveyors, ornithologists, ecologists and project managers that underpin the restoration proposals/works.
In the short term, restoration of functioning peatlands provides opportunity to deliver for the climate, biodiversity and the economy – a triple win for Scotland’s people.
For more information on Peatland ACTION email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.nature.scot/PeatlandACTION
This article was sponsored by NatureScot