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.