The magic of peatlands

Scotland is famous for the beauty of its mountains, forests, rivers and lochs. But when it comes to tackling climate change and encouraging biodiversity, our extensive peatlands achieve something every bit as beautiful.

Approximately 20% of Scotland’s landmass is made up of peatland. And this wild terrain currently holds around 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon – that’s the equivalent of 140 years of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. These peatlands have a crucial role to play in the way we tackle climate change in Scotland – yet 80% of them are now damaged. 

The cost of restoring all Scotland’s peatlands to a near-natural condition is put at £5 billion. Yet the total climate change benefits of that restoration are estimated at £65 billion. The case for peatland restoration – environmentally, ethically and financially – is clear cut. 

Peatland restoration provides a highly effective climate change solution on a significant scale. And here in Scotland, there are vast for opportunities for maximising the magic and power of peatlands for the benefit of everyone.

European curlew

European curlew

Golden plover

Golden plover

Greenshank

Greenshank

Biodiversity and beauty

Peatlands are created when the remains of plants are submerged in waterlogged terrain. Comprised of sphagnum moss and pool systems, they continue to grow at a rate of 1mm a year. That may not sound like much but, over large areas, it makes a big difference.

They also provide a wonderful habitat for native flowers and wildlife. Curlew, golden plover and greenshank soar above the thirsty moss, as do snipe and hen harriers. Hares and red deer can be seen racing across the horizon, whilst lizards and snakes lurk surreptitiously. Meanwhile, patrolled by the stunning marsh fritillary butterfly, plants such as the bog asphodel, sundew, butterwort and bladderwort bring yellows, pinks and reds to the mossy carpet. 

It’s a natural habitat for all these species and a wonderful landscape for people to enjoy outdoor pursuits. And peatlands have another important role – they filter most of the water that we drink in Scotland.

Sphagnum moss – the most important bog building species

Sphagnum moss – the most important bog building species

Bell heather

Bell heather

Dark Tussock moth caterpillar

Dark Tussock moth caterpillar

Why restore peatland?

Many peatlands have evolved undisturbed for thousands of years – and while they cover just three per cent of the world’s land area, they hold nearly 30% of all carbon stored on land. 

However, when a bog becomes damaged or dries out, it begins releasing carbon dioxide, rather than absorbing it. When this happens on a significant scale, the impact on our climate is dramatic.

Dried out peat hagg

Dried out peat hagg

Hagg eroded down to bare peat

Hagg eroded down to bare peat

Haggs often form large ‘systems’

Haggs often form large ‘systems’

The good news is that restoration brings almost immediate benefits, at scale. Within a few months, carbon emissions are reduced by up to three tonnes per hectare, and peatland’s natural role of absorbing carbon is restored. Caledonian Climate is working with landholders and businesses to make this happen across the Scottish Highlands – quickly, responsibly and safely.

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