Risk/opportunity:(from the Climate Change Risk Assessment for Scotland 2012):
Cross Cutting

Narratives: Resilience of the natural environment (terrestrial)

SCCAP theme: Natural environment

SCCAP objectives:
N2: Support a healthy and diverse natural environment with capacity to adapt

Latest figures

Peatland area restored up to 2012: 30.9 kha (Chapman et al., 2013)

1.4 kha a-1 restored (1990-2012) (Chapman et al., 2013)

At a glance
  • Peatlands are priority habitats under the EU Habitats Directive, as well as being critical carbon stores.
  • More extensive areas of peatland, in better condition, are more likely to be able to cope with climate change than small fragmented areas.
  • The Scottish Government has placed a great emphasis on the importance of restoring peat-forming habitats which have been drained or damaged.

Peatlands[1] are important for their unique biodiversity (Scotland is host to probably the largest single expanse of blanket bog in the world – the Flow Country), for their contribution to water quality (important both for some potable water supplies and for freshwater fisheries), for their contribution to flood control and mitigation, for their preservation of archaeological and environmental records, for the provision of the wilderness experience (important in tourism) and as a limited habitat for deer and grouse (important in the field sport industry) (Bain et al., 2011).

Deep peat (soils having an organic layer >50 cm deep) represents a very significant carbon store, estimated at 1620 Mt C and 56% of the total soil C stock in Scotland (Chapman et al., 2009). Even small changes in this carbon store, say a 1% loss, become comparable to other major carbon fluxes. Many areas are in poor condition and, instead of sequestering carbon, are losing carbon.

Restoration can reverse this situation or, at least, can prevent further losses (Bain et al., 2011). This indicator currently examines data on known restoration areas from 1990-2012.

Related indicators:

NB11 Extent of key habitats: deep peat

NB13 Condition of key habitats: Area of modified deep peat soils

NB18 Annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from degraded peatlands

[1] ‘Peatland’ will include both bog and fen. Other significant parts of wetland within Scotland are marsh and swamp. However, we have no access to any data on the restoration of marsh and swamp but it is likely that the areas involved will be relatively small.

With the implementation of Peatland Action (originally the Green Stimulus Package), administered by SNH, the rate of restoration has increased (Table 1).

The total number of sites within Peatland Action is 105 (Coupar, 2014) compared to the total for 1990-2012 of 47 sites (Figure 1). The actual area restored may be greater than this with input from other funding streams, including private investment. The area of these latest projects is not currently included in the indicator data.

Table 1 Funding from Scottish Government to the Peatland Action (SNH) (Coupar, 2014) and approximate areas that this would restore based on average cost per ha (Chapman et al., 2013)


Peatland Action funding

Approx. area of restoration (ha)










Data on restoration – location, intervention and area involved – has been collated (as far as possible) going back to 1990 (the baseline year for IPPC accounting; Chapman et al., 2013). There will have been projects before then, particularly focussing on raised bogs in poor condition but near to population centres where local interest has sponsored conservation and improvement. However, we are not aware that these have been summarised in any detail. Restoration was very slow over the first decade from 1990 but then accelerated with the increased efforts from 2001 onwards, particularly with EU LIFE funding.

The Scottish Government has placed a great emphasis on the importance of restoring peat-forming habitats which have been drained or damaged. Further funding has been set aside for peatland restoration, e.g. £10M of SRDP funding has been ring-fenced for this (Coupar, 2014), as well as £4M of Heritage Lottery Funding and further EU-LIFE support. A target of 10,000 ha restored by 2015 has been set (SNH, 2014) while the Scottish Government is aiming for ‘accelerated restoration’ of up to 21,000 ha a-1 (Scottish Government, 2013).

A significant proportion (22,520 ha) of the area restored so far was only subjected to grazing management. During the assessment period currently covered by the indicator, there were no specific cases of bare peat restoration or of any conversions from cultivated peat with only one project particularly targeting eroded peat (Chapman et al. 2013).

Restoration effort has increased considerably in the past two years with a more than doubling of the number of restoration sites. These have extended over the country with particular new investment in Dumfries and Galloway, the Lothians and Stirling, North-East Scotland and the Cairngorms (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Location of restoration sites: A 1990-2012 (Chapman, pers. comm.); B 2012-2014 (Coupar, 2014).

The recent trend of 1.4 kha a-1 restored has rapidly increased and the current figure is really unknown. Once data collation has caught up, it is likely to be in the region of 3 to 6 kha a-1.

A critical limitation is that not all restoration efforts since 1990 have been recorded. Hence the cited area restored is a minimum figure with other areas of restoration outwith the public sector being largely unrepresented in the numbers.

Secondly, there is some ambiguity in the term ‘restoration’ which may include anything from intensive peat reprofiling, gully blocking and vegetation reseeding, to just the reduction of grazing pressure or cessation of muirburn. Similarly the areas involved may be quite different, as too the costs involved.

Thirdly, the area of restoration may refer to the whole of a particular peatland entity but the actual area benefitting may only be a proportion of the whole. Hence grip[1] blocking may only benefit the immediate locality of the former grips, the removal of trees from afforested areas will have less influence on former forest rides[2], and the re-vegetation of eroded areas will only benefit the bare peat and not the rest of the site, depending on the proportion eroded.

[1] A grip is a moorland drainage ditch

[2] A ride is a linear open space within a wood derived from the need for access

Bain, C.G., Bonn, A., Stoneman, R., Chapman, S., Coupar, A., Evans, M., Gearey, B., Howat, M., Joosten, H., Keenleyside, C., Labadz, J., Lindsay, R., Littlewood, N., Lunt, P., Miller, C., Moxey, A., Orr, H., Reed, M., Smith, P., Swales, V., Thompson, D.B.A., Thompson, P.S., Van de Noort, R., Wilson, J.D., Worrall, F. (2011) IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands. Edinburgh, IUCN UK Peatland Programme. Available online at: http://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org

Chapman, S.J., Bell, J., Donnelly, D. & Lilly, A., (2009) Carbon stocks in Scottish peatlands. Soil Use and Management 25, 105-112.

Chapman,S., Thomson,K. & Matthews,R. (2013) AFOLU accounting: implication for implementing peatland restoration - costs and benefits. ClimateXChange enquiry number 1208-01.  Edinburgh, ClimateXChange.

Coupar A. (2014) Progress on UK Peatland Action from country levels. Presentation given at ‘Peatland Action: Learning from Success Conference 2014’, IUCN, Inverness. Available online at: http://iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/sites/all/files/ProgressonPeatlandAction_ACoupar.pdf

Scottish Government (2013) Second Report on Proposals and Policies. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/06/6387

SNH (2014) Scotland’s National Peatland Plan: working for our future. A consultation paper. Available online at: http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1306595.pdf

Case study: Lowland raised bog at Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve, Central Scotland https://weadapt.org/placemarks/maps/view/920

Lindsay,R. (2010) Peatlands and carbon: A critical synthesis.  RSPB Scotland.


Peatland Action:


National Peatland Plan:


Primary author of this document: Steve Chapman (James Hutton Institute)

Rebekka Artz (James Hutton Institute)

Scottish Natural Heritage