Buffering climate change with wetlands

We were delighted to host 18 colleagues from across Europe on a recent study tour by the Eurosite Wetlands and Climate Change working group, visiting sites across central Scotland to find out how we are using wetlands to help buffer the impacts of ongoing climate change.  The tour also helped us learn from our visitors’ experiences working with wetlands in countries including the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Croatia and Poland.

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Eurosite wetlands study tour at St Andrews ©Iain Sime/SNH

Eurosite is a network of site managers, sharing experiences on practical nature management.  As such, delegates were particularly interested in the techniques and means by which we have been restoring, creating and managing wetlands in Scotland.  The study tour also promoted the concept of using wetlands as ‘natural climate buffers’ – which seeks to give wetlands the space to evolve with climate change, adapt to it and play an important role in helping society cope with climate change. We were able to show how we have been trying to do that in a variety of different ways.

The tour visited Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve where there were gasps of amazement at some of the changes that have been achieved on the reserve – particularly the fun titled ‘stump flipping’ technique (illustrated in this video).  It has allowed areas of damaged bog to be transformed from bare peat to now wet, vegetated ground with returning Sphagnum within only 4-5 years.

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Results of PeatlandACTION work at Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve ©Iain Sime/SNH

Later the group also visited Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve where they were able to see the near complete restoration of this raised bog after many years of extensive and imaginative restoration work.  Andrew McBride from the Peatland ACTION project explained the wide range of impressive restoration techniques that have been developed and there have been invitations for the team to visit the Netherlands and other places to export our work and help with the restoration of their bogs.

The tour also included restoration in the urban environment with our Green Infrastructure project.  It was impressive to see work taking place to open up a culverted burn in Easterhouse as part of creating new greenspace for the local community, that also reduces flood risk to housing and the M8.  The group also saw work taking place near Sighthill to restore a local nature reserve and use the canal and wetlands to reduce flood risk in central Glasgow.  Even the Dutch visitors thought this work meant they should be doing more wetland creation work in their cities!

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Green Infrastructure work underway near Sighthill in Glasgow ©Iain Sime/SNH

We also ventured onto sand dunes and salt marshes to see case studies from the Dynamic Coast project.  At St Andrews, volunteer efforts to create and expand salt marshes were closely examined, with a desire to try such techniques elsewhere.  Other impressive salt marsh creation was discussed at Skinflats RSPB reserve, which was full of water and coping well with the 2nd highest tide since a flood embankment was breached a couple of years ago.  And there were further gasps at the scale of volunteer effort on St Andrews beach, and how successful this has been at expanding sand dunes.  The work was obviously of great interest to visitors from coastal countries such as the Netherlands, but also to a site manager of the Kampinos National Park in central Poland which has Europe’s largest area of inland sand dunes– who knew?!

With invitations to export our experiences to other parts of Europe, and plans to work on other collaborative initiatives, the tour was a great success.  It really helped emphasise the importance and scale of the wetland restoration work that we are doing here in Scotland.  That was despite sunny weather blessing the whole of the tour, something that you might expect wouldn’t help show off wetlands!

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