Transformational peatland strategy needed to tackle Scotland’s nature and climate crisis

Jess Barrett

Tuesday 17 November 2020

RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland.

Scotland needs a more ambitious and coherent strategy on peatland restoration if the full potential of this habitat to help tackle the nature and climate crisis is to be fulfilled, says RSPB Scotland. New analysis by the RSPB published today has revealed the overall failure, UK wide, to restore our peatlands and the threat this poses to mitigating climate change and its impacts.  

The Scottish Government has recognised the importance of healthy peatland for nature and its ability to act as a huge carbon store and is leading the way in the UK in investing in peatland restoration. However, the work planned over the next 10 years will not restore all our damaged peatland and practices such as burning, overgrazing and trampling, commercial peat extraction, and tree planting on shallow peat soils continue to be permitted.  

Peatland covers 1.9 million hectares in Scotland, more than 20 percent of the land here. These blanket and raised bogs are an incredible habitat which can store carbon in the mossy, wetland soil, as well as providing a home for a vast array of wildlife including golden plovers and hen harriers.  

However, the degree to which our peatlands can support wildlife and store carbon depends on them being in good condition. Unfortunately, around 75 percent of Scotland’s peatland is degraded in some way, as a result of decades of draining, overgrazing, burning, tree planting, and extraction, causing it to release the carbon stored within it.  

The RSPB’s new analysis shows that the poor condition of UK peatlands results in the release of carbon equivalent to 5% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions every year – more than the annual emission from all HGVs on UK roads. If restoration efforts are not substantially increased across the four countries, then degraded peatlands will emit twice as much carbon as tree planting would capture if the Committee on Climate Change’s UK forestry targets aims were met. Any carbon capture benefit from new woodlands will therefore be cancelled out if peatland restoration efforts stay at their current levels.  

The Scottish Government has set the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, with a 75 percent reduction by 2030, and is investing £250 million over the next 10 years in peatland restoration. However, this restoration work is limited to 250,000 hectares by 2030 and with well over 1 million hectares of damaged peatland in Scotland far more needs to be done.  

Peatland restoration also has the potential to be an integral part of a Green Recovery from COVID-19, providing jobs and supporting rural communities. The continuation of damaging practices on peatland jars with the commitment from Scottish Government to restoration and will only result in more peatland needing to be restored in the future.   

Andrew Midgley, Senior Land Use Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland said: “Restoring our damaged peatlands should be a vital part of Scotland’s efforts to tackle the nature and climate crisis but to do so requires a more ambitious and coherent strategy from the Scottish Government. The investment in peatland restoration over the next 10 years is very welcome and moving in the right direction, but more is needed. Without it the full potential for peatlands to contribute to meeting Scotland’s net zero carbon target by 2045 and to be a part of the Green Recovery from COVID-19 will not be realised.  

“Allowing damaging practices such as burning on peatland and extraction of peat for retail sale creates further need for more restoration and investment of public funds, undermining the work being done now. With the UN’s climate crisis conference COP26 taking place in Glasgow in a year’s time, the Scottish Government has an opportunity to show that there is real substance and commitment behind it’s carbon reduction targets by creating a transformational peatland strategy going forward.”  

A story map of the analysis undertaken by the RSPB can be viewed here:

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland