Peatland restoration and potential emissions savings on agricultural land

Peatland restoration has a significant role in tackling the global climate emergency and helping Scotland meet its ambitious climate change targets. Globally, peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store, containing about 25% of global soil carbon. However, they have been damaged by overexploitation. The Scottish Government has committed to restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland in Scotland by 2030. About a quarter of Scotland’s area is covered in peat, storing over 3 billion tonnes of carbon.

Peat also provides a range of other co-benefits. Changing some current uses of peatland, particularly for agriculture, may lead to significant savings in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and offer some of the highest per hectare emissions savings.

This report assesses the current evidence for the potential for emissions savings from re-wetting peatland currently used for agriculture in Scotland and explores alternative uses that might provide an economic return.

Key findings

  • The quality and coverage of spatial data on peatland in Scotland is mixed. In the last 40 years, a variety of different datasets have been gathered at different times on Scotland’s soils, land use and land cover.
  • The definition of what constitutes drainage is critical to the outcome of mapping exercises with currently available data products; no mapping has specifically targeted this question.
  • Emissions resulting from land use on peatlands have only recently been included in the Provisional UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics.
  • Peatland with the poorest agricultural production capability presents the greatest opportunity for emission reductions.
  • While cropland on peat has a very high emission factor per unit area, it only covers a small area of Scotland.

The report identifies specific locations across Scotland where there may be GHG emission reduction opportunities, largely on low-grade agricultural land (very often upland heath vegetation on peat). Holdings for this type of land often cover large areas; because of this the potential exists to achieve significant emission reductions through engagement with a small number of key land managers.