Since 2012, over 10,000 hectares of peatlands have been set on the road to restoration through the Scottish Government-funded Peatland ACTION initiative, coordinated by Scottish Natural Heritage. On World Water Day, Fiona Mann, Peatland ACTION Communications Officer, explains the importance of taking care of our peatlands as they have the potential to provide nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
Many of Scotland’s iconic views are framed and coloured by peatlands, from the vast expanses of the highlands and islands of the west coast to the bogs and fens just a short distance from our town and cities.
Peatlands, or areas of land primarily made of partially decomposed organic plant material (mostly mosses) called peat, cover around 20% of the land in Scotland. They’re most prevalent on our western shores, due largely to our oceanic climate.
More people are increasingly recognising the value peatlands have, not least as clean water filters and stores. Much of our drinking water in Scotland filters through peatland catchments, improving water quality at source. The filtered water is also the lifeblood of our important freshwater pearl mussel and Atlantic salmon rivers.
Healthy peatlands offer many benefits beyond water filtration. They protect the ground from erosion and hold water back, preventing floods. Peatlands are also a source of great biodiversity, with many species like the splendid golden plover, insect-eating sundews and hare’s-tail cottongrass calling this habitat their home.
An estimated 10% of the planet’s freshwater is stored in peatlands, making the health of this habitat crucial for water security now and in the future.
However, not all peatlands are in good condition. In Scotland alone it is currently estimated that over 600,000 hectares are in a poor condition as a result of historic land management decisions (drainage, burning and erosion). Where peat forming vegetation has been stripped away, the bare peat is left exposed and dries out.
Degraded peatlands not only lose their natural ability to filter water and manage flood risk: they lose their ability to adapt to climate change and are more vulnerable to drought or flooding. Crucially, they are also a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Peatland ACTION has been funding restoration work to restore these peatlands throughout Scotland. This work is vital to reduce the risk of flooding and decrease the amount of sediment washing into our rivers and drinking water reservoirs.
For example, at Lochrosque Estate in the Highlands techniques used included blocking ditches and grips to slow the flow of water with the aim of reducing the risk of flooding or drought in the catchment. By smoothing out peak flows, the small scale hydro scheme on Lochrosque Estate is able to run more efficiently. The restoration work should also help to prevent the erosion of peaty soils downstream thus hopefully improving the overall drinking water quality.
There are so many benefits to improving our peatlands. The strength of the Peatland ACTION Fund lies in working collaboratively and ‘learning-by-doing’. Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of different restoration techniques informs adaptation to achieve the best results for the future of Scotland’s peatlands.
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