Scotland is a peat-rich nation. Healthy peatlands deliver a wide range of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, carbon storage and a specialised biodiversity.

However, much of Scotland’s peat resource is damaged: eroding, drained or converted to other land uses. The Scottish Government has made a significant commitment to restore peatland areas that have been damaged.

Peatlands restored to a functioning ecosystem can better withstand a changing climate and also provide vital flood risk protection. It takes time for the benefits of restoration to take effect.

This paper explores how we can monitor success. Long-term monitoring is important to track this recovery and prompt intervention when necessary.

Despite significant investment in peatland restoration we still have a lot to learn, particularly on the best techniques to use, and in understanding how long the process takes.

Scotland has a large peatland resource, and when it is managed well there are many benefits for climate change and to wider biodiversity. In some places, forests have been planted in the past, and where they are not growing well, one option is to remove the trees and restore the bog.
The process of restoration takes time, and it is important to understand what happens over the decades that follow. This briefing draws together the results of several projects that examined how the peatland responds when trees are removed from former conifer plantations on deep peat and the drainage channels are blocked.
Key points
  • We found that undisturbed bogs, and restoration sites older than 15 years do help to combat climate change by storing more greenhouse gases than they emit.
  • Despite some uncertainty, our results showed a clear contribution to global climate cooling in the decades following peatland restoration. While disturbance tended to increase greenhouse gas emissions, this is compensated by the amount of net climate cooling after 15-20 years.
  • We need to continue monitoring to understand the effect on the climate over longer time scales.
  • The results confirm the benefits of forest removal on deep peats where conifer yields have been low. In addition to habitat improvements, we found a long-term climate benefit that is unlikely to be matched by forestry. Newer management techniques, such as intensive drain and plough-furrow damming may help faster recovery of carbon sequestration
  • Continued monitoring of vegetation response and water table depth across a network of sites is advisable to inform cost-effectiveness of restoration after forest removal.

While the science is complex and there are still things we don’t know, we found that restoring peatlands previously planted with conifer forests has clear benefits over the medium term.