Scotland is a global pioneer of peatland restoration which is widely seen as having a significant role in addressing the global climate emergency.
Peatlands cover nearly a quarter of Scotland and contain over half of the total Scottish soil carbon. However, a high proportion of Scottish peatlands has been altered to such an extent that it is now degraded, causing substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Consequently, the Scottish Government has established ambitious peatland restoration targets; a large funding programme – Peatland Action – has been in place since 2012, complementing work by other delivery partners such as Scottish Water and Forestry and Land Scotland.
While there is evident potential for peatland restoration to provide climate and wider ecosystem benefits, much less is known about the broader perceptions of peatlands, and the values attached to their restoration.
This report examines current experiences of peatland restoration, as well as the anticipated outcomes and factors influencing engagement with restoration. We also consider the opportunities and challenges for upscaling restoration efforts going forward. This information can help guide the administration of public support for peatland restoration as it evolves and increases in prominence.
- Land managers are motivated to restore peatland by the multiple benefits that it generates.
Some of the most frequently observed benefits are: changes to the hydrology, prevention of further peat erosion (and retention of existing carbon stores) and habitat and landscape improvement. This, in turn, can result in: flood risk reduction, lower water treatment costs, and improved ability of local communities to engage with peatlands.
- Early engagement with landowners and communities facilitates participation in restoration, as does funding of up-front costs.
Organising talks, walks and early consultation events helps to explain benefits, raise awareness and address negative perceptions. Conducting feasibility studies and embedding Peatland Action (PA) officers in local organisations also facilitates participation.
- The main barriers to engagement relate to the wider impacts on how land is managed and a lack of knowledge or understanding. We also found evidence of ‘cultural’ clashes.
Concerns were expressed regarding the impact of restoration on farming activities and eligibility for agricultural payments or governmental tax breaks. Lack of knowledge or understanding was mentioned in relation to the support available and the application and funding process, and to the benefits of peatland restoration. Peatland restoration is seen by some as undermining cultural and historical values.
- Challenges during restoration activities are closely tied to environmental challenges, as well as problems of communication and coordination.
Environmental challenges can result in general logistical problems during restoration. Communication issues among different actors can also lead to problems during restoration.
- Improved communication might encourage uptake by a more diverse range of land managers. This includes clearer information on what support is available in terms of preparing applications, carrying out restoration and managing the projects.
- There are clear benefits in facilitating connections across stakeholders. This can be done by embedding PA officers (or other knowledge brokers / facilitators) in organisations and also by promoting partnership working.
- Funding of up-front restoration costs is effective. There may be value in supporting maintenance /management costs and cross-overs with farm payments. All these aspects were considered very important to encourage other land owners to engage in peatland restoration.
- Training and resources are important to ensure works are carried out to satisfactory standards even in the most challenging locations.
- Pooling or shared hire systems of specialist equipment might improve physical provision and alleviate concerns from a number of potential participants.