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Managed burning can benefit peatland, new study suggests - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Heather burning (image: GWCT)
Heather burning (image: GWCT)

Managed burning can be a valuable tool in restoring peatland vegetation, according to a study undertaken by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). Plants such as Sphagnum moss, which makes peat bogs more resilient to drought, was five times higher on areas burnt eight to ten years earlier when compared with unburnt areas, according to the study published in Ecological Indicators. These findings also inform the debate over climate change, with previous research showing that methane emissions are lower from Sphagnum-dominated peatlands than from other types of peatland’.

Dr Sian Whitehead, one of the co-authors of the research, is encouraged by the findings. “These results are further evidence to suggest prescribed ‘cool’ burning at appropriate time intervals can help those plants are particularly well adapted to peat-forming conditions by reducing competition from heather”, she notes. “There should now be more long-term experiments that have properly designed control and burn treatments, as well as considering heather mowing, to better understand the impact on vegetation and peatland function”.

Scientists at the GWCT revisited randomly selected plots at Langholm Moor, which had been managed with prescribed ‘cool’ burns‘ between four and ten years previously. They measured the percentage cover of heather, cotton grass, Sphagnum, and other mosses and compared it with findings at 16 unburnt control plots. They also recorded vegetation height, moss depth and vegetation biomass, with all of these measurements then being considered in relation to burn-age.

Rad the paper: Sian Whitehead, Hannah Weald, David Baines, Post-burning responses by vegetation on blanket bog peatland sites on a Scottish grouse moor, Ecological Indicators, Volume 123, 2021, 107336, ISSN 1470-160X, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2021.107336. Open Access

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