During the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we’ve been featuring NatureScot staff and partners working along our shorelines and waterways to gain an insight into the varied work they do. This month we hear from Matthew Cook, from the Crichton Carbon Centre, on his day in the life of a Peatland ACTION Project Officer.
The sun shines down on a beautiful autumn day in the South of Scotland. Parking the car at a remote farmhouse in Robert Burns’ Sweet Afton Glen, I hike for an hour uphill, through forest plantations and fields of grazing sheep, and arrive at Star Bog around 1,700 feet above sea level. Under clear blue skies, far reaching views stretch out to the Lowther Hills in the East and the faint outline of The Isle of Arran in the West.
With my peat probes, GPS, mapping tools and camera I begin to survey an area of eroding blanket bog, identified for possible restoration. High up here, with the peat beneath my feet and no one else around, it is easy to remember why I signed up to be a Peatland ACTION Project Officer.
That was yesterday. Today, as I sit in my makeshift home office, I weave together the different strands of work that go on behind the scenes to make a successful peatland restoration plan. As well as surveying out on site, a project requires detailed Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, consideration of appropriate restoration techniques, landowner liaison, contractor tendering processes, health and safety paperwork, funding applications and data management. All being well, good planning and preparation will result in machines on site later in the year.
Often wild, inhospitable and lonely places, Scottish peatlands are also beautiful and diverse stores of history and culture, home to unique plant and animal life. Peatlands play a vital part in regulating water flow and quality, contribute to wildfire mitigation and are a natural store of millions of tonnes of organic carbon. They are also one of the few remaining quiet, remote and mystical landscapes we have. To restore and preserve this beautiful natural habitat is the least we can do, and there is plenty of work to be done.
Although the lockdown restrictions earlier this year stopped all work on the ground, the winter programme of works had almost been completed, resulting in another 6,000 hectares of peatlands across Scotland being put on the road to restoration.
On the ground restoration work usually begins in September, after the breeding bird season. This winter, here in the South of Scotland, 150 hectares of eroding and drained blanket bog in the Lowther Hills will start the restoration journey. The restoration incorporates ditch blocking, hagg re-profiling and bare peat restoration techniques, working to slow the erosion of peat into watercourses and return the hydrology of the peatland to a more natural state. As well as improving the quality of water in a protected drinking water catchment, the work will improve the condition of a habitat designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, noted for its assemblage of upland plant life.
Next time you are walking across hills of blanket bog or skirting an ancient raised bog in the mist and rain, you might like to think of the project officers, landowners and contractors working hard behind the scenes to safeguard this precious landscape. On the other hand, you might want to just enjoy the moment, safe in the knowledge that we are doing our best for the peatlands of Scotland.