What do wetlands do for you?

On World Wetlands Day, Andrew McBride, Peatland ACTION Programme Manager, explains the importance of taking care of our wetlands by telling us about Sandy Loch. This northern loch provides drinking water for Lerwick and much of the Shetland mainland but may also play a role in reducing the effects of climate change.

Land around Sandy Loch in Shetland is typical rough grazing, modified over decades, possibly centuries, from peat cutting for domestic fuel and pasture improvement for livestock.  ©Scottish Water - Sustainable Land Management team

Land around Sandy Loch in Shetland is typical rough grazing, modified over decades, possibly centuries, from peat cutting for domestic fuel and pasture improvement for livestock. ©Scottish Water – Sustainable Land Management Team

Recently, Scottish Water treatment works at Sandy Loch noticed high levels of discolouration and organic material in the water. Survey work by the utility company’s Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Team identified a large area of bare (unvegetated) peat in the water catchment area, which was likely to be contributing to these high levels.

The peat was likely eroded as a result of a change in land management practices such as overgrazing, and made worse by rain which washes the peaty soils into the loch. Removing the organic materials from the water is an expensive and lengthy process, often requiring the use of extra chemicals before the water is piped to the main drinking supply.

In cases such as this, where bare peat is impacting the raw water quality, restoring the habitat is often the best way forward: this environmentally-friendly option helps to improve and protect raw water quality in the catchment while reducing the filtration process and amount of chemical treatment, and the overall cost of treating the water.

Scottish Water SLM Team reached out to SNH’s Peatland ACTION project for help. We advised them to create bog-pools to help slow the flow of water and trap and reduce the loss of peaty sediments into the loch. The pools also provide conditions to allow for the growth or re-colonisation of bog plants, particularly sphagnum – a key ingredient in maintaining a healthy peatland habitat. A living mulch was added to help kick start this process.

Sandy Loch. The eroding peat has been transformed into bog pools and re-planted with bog vegetation. ©Sue White/Shetland Amenity Trust.

Sandy Loch. The eroding peat has been transformed into bog pools and re-planted with bog vegetation. ©Sue White/Shetland Amenity Trust.

The restoration work at Sandy Loch should not only assist with improving or maintaining the raw water before it enters the treatment works, but also lead to a number of environmental benefits such as protecting the ground from further erosion, reducing the flashiness of flood waters, creating suitable conditions for new peat to form, and enhancing biodiversity.

But perhaps the most important environmental benefit of restoring the habitat around Sandy Loch will be helping to maintain, and where possible improve Scotland’s natural carbon storage and resilience to climate change. Peat is a source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions (methane and nitrous oxide), and as it erodes and dries out these gasses are released back into the atmosphere. By creating conditions where the peat can start to grow back, we can reverse this trend and store greenhouse gasses instead.

In other words, improving wetlands can contribute to providing clean drinking water, better habitats and reduced air pollution – a triple win!

Phase one of the project was completed in March 2017. Scottish Water SLM Team is due to begin phase two in spring 2018 with the help of Peatland ACTION funding and under the supervision of project officer Sue White from Shetland Amenity Trust.

Jared Stewart, Catchment Liaison Officer Team Leader for the Sustainable Land Management Team at Scottish Water, said: “This is the first time Scottish Water has been involved in a habitat restoration project of this calibre. It’s been exciting to work with Peatland ACTION and see how the choices we make to manage and improve our water supply can also benefit the environment and slow the effects of climate change. We will continue to monitor the site as part of our water quality monitoring programme and look forward to seeing the results.”

Read about Sandy Loch in the news!
Shetland Amenity Trust News
Sandy Loch peatland restoration completed

The project received a Shetland Environmental Award – Shetland News – Awards

Peatland ACTION
SNH supports the Peatland ACTION fund to provide funding for projects that restore or lead to the restoration of peatlands and/or wider public engagement with peatlands in Scotland.

Visit the Peatland ACTION web page to find out about funding opportunities for peatland restoration in Scotland.

Get involved:
Find a World Wetlands Day event near you.

For more information about Scottish Water’s Sustainable Land Management Team and the work they do to protect drinking water sources visit their web page.

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