Peatland ACTION have been hard at work on Beinn Dubh and Mid Hill high above the shores of Loch Lomond. The team have been using the healing powers of sphagnum moss to give old peat hags a facelift in an effort to combat climate change.
Richard Cooper, Peatland ACTION Project Officer for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park with the help of Highland Conservation’s Andy Colman, and his team, have been working with Luss Estate to restore areas of peat that have become exposed and degraded due to historical overgrazing and climatic factors.
Healthy peatlands can deliver a range of benefits: acting as a store for carbon that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, a flood water store and clear water filter, this in addition to providing a rich habitat for wildlife, food for grouse, improved access to land, and reduced risks to game and livestock through fatalities in deep gullies and drainage ditches, and eroding hags.
Damaged peatlands, however, cannot deliver the same range of benefits – it is estimated that as much as 50% of Scotland’s peatlands are in poor condition, and 20% are badly degraded releasing carbon instead of storing it.
When peat is exposed it reacts with oxygen, causing it to degrade and release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change. Degraded and exposed peat also holds less water during heavy rains resulting in downstream flooding and increased sedimentation.
Richard Cooper, Peatland ACTION Project Officer for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park said:
“Peatland ACTION is working closely with landowners, like Luss Estate, to restore damaged peatlands right across the length and breadth of Scotland. The work we are doing will have multiple benefits both for the landowner and the environment, such as helping improve water quality, acting towards flood prevention, rejuvenating our upland habitats and wildlife, and helping the fight against climate change.”
Peat hag reprofiling
A peat hag is a type of erosion that can occur at the sides of gullies or seemingly in isolation.
Peat hags arise as a result of water flow eroding downwards into the peat or where a fire or overgrazing has exposed the peat surface to dry out and blow or wash away.
Without help from projects like Peatland ACTION these peat hags can potentially enter a cycle of perpetual erosion resulting in the development of areas of bare peat. This is not good news for the environment or for landowners.
Areas where peat is more than 50cm deep are eligible for restoration work and some of the exposed peat hags on Beinn Dubh and Mid Hill were 2-3 metres high.
Re-profiling or giving peat hags a face lift has many benefits, and the results can been seen immediately.
First, diggers are used to reduce the profile of the eroding peat hag, the gaps in the exposed peat are then covered with nearby turves to stabilise the surface and prevent further erosion. In time, the turves will grow and interlock with their neighbours preventing erosion in the future and in some cases even contributing to active peat formation, and ultimately locking-in carbon.
The healing powers of sphagnum moss
Used in the First World War as a wound dressing due to its antiseptic properties, sphagnum moss is being used today to help heal the scars on the landscape, especially in areas where historical overgrazing and climatic factors has left the peat exposed.
Planting sphagnum mosses (the key bog builder) directly into areas of bare peat is being trialled in the hope that it will enable the landscape to heal itself. Sphagnum mosses are amazing plants that are able to hold between 10 and 20 times their weight in water and can come back from long periods of dry conditions. It is hoped that this technique which has been successful in other parts of the UK will also work on Beinn Dubh.
Transplantation involves harvesting sphagnum from a nearby donor site and handfuls are then heeled in directly into the bare peat.
As this short video shows it can be wet and mucky work, but as Andy Colman from Highland Conservation explains “this is why we wear waterproofs!”
Once established, these tiny plants play a major role in keeping water on the hill for longer, reducing the risk of wildfires and reducing erosion and flooding downstream.
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If you would like to contribute to the on-going work of Peatland ACTION, we would like to hear from you. For further details please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Luss Estates is committed to sustainable land management, supporting our local communities, and growing the regional economy. For more information please visit www.lussestates.co.uk