Scottish estates are at the forefront of two major peatland restoration projects which will enable carbon sequestration, habitat improvement and restoration of severely eroded areas of upland amid some of Scotland’s most wild and beautiful landscapes. One of the projects will cover 3,700 acres of land in the Monadhliath and the other involves over 1,200 acres in the Cairngorms National Park.

Peatland plays a key role in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change by storing carbon. The Scottish Government has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2032 and to restore 40% of Scotland’s peatland (618,000 acres) by 2030. These two restoration projects will help to mitigate further carbon loss from the sites and play a part in meeting both objectives.

Across Scotland as a whole it is estimated that peatlands store 1.6 billion tons of carbon[1].

The estates taking part in the restoration projects include Garrogie, Alvie, Pitmain, Farr and Glenmazeran in the Monadhliath and Invercauld, Candacraig, Mar and Glenfeshie in the Cairngorms.

Philip MacKenzie of Farr Estate said:

“As well as carbon storage, this innovative partnership project will provide a wealth of benefits to both people and animals. The work will help to enhance the precious home of rare birds, mammals and plants. Bare peat re-vegetation, blocking eroded gullies and reprofiling hags on the moors will help to slow the flow of water when it rains; reducing the threat of flooding in local communities.

“Estates in the Monadhliath have a proven track-record of undertaking moorland conservation projects. My family have been at Farr for over 130 years and therefore want to keep the moorland in the best possible condition. We work together to help care for these stunning wild spaces that mean so much to so many people; and to ensure that they are protected for generations to come.”

Matt Watson of consultants Strath Caulaidh Ltd, leading the restoration work in the Monadhliath said:

“Our understanding of upland habitats has evolved over time – today we have a greater understanding of how to conserve these environments. We have developed a number of novel approaches to peatland restoration work in the Monadhliath to help deal with the specific conditions in this part of Scotland. Peatland restoration involves, amongst a number of things, restoring the surface hydrology of the peat – so that it develops and maintains a high and stable bog water-table through most of the year. In these conditions, species such as cotton-grasses, bog mosses and a few other plants able to grow in nutrient-poor environments will prosper. Each year a small proportion of the annual growth of these plants is saved from being oxidised, due to the high water-table, and eventually is subsumed into the peat mass below thus deepening it. In Scotland, upland peatlands are relatively commonplace, but in Europe these habitats are very rare. The Monadhliath have one of the largest areas of high-altitude peatland in the UK and parts of this have special protection as a result.”

Hans McKenzie-Wilson, a head gamekeeper at Invercauld and member of the Grampian Moorland Group, has been working closely with Stephen Corcoran, Cairngorms Peatland Action Project Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage on the work being undertaken on the estate. Since 2012, SNH’s Peatland Action has set more than 24,700 acres of degraded peatland in Scotland on the road to recovery.

Aerial photography was used to map degraded peatland in the Cairngorms National Park and the two sites at Invercauld, covering in the order of 544 acres, were estimated to be emitting a total of 2,134 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. The project at Invercauld is due to be completed in November.

Hans McKenzie-Wilson said:

“The work being undertaken on the two beats in Invercauld is focusing on peat hag restoration. Peat hags are usually vertical faces of bare peat and once damaged, wind rain and frost can lead to further erosion. They can be repaired by re-profiling the vertical face of the hag and re-vegetating the bare peat with borrowed turfs. We are blocking moorland grips using peat dams with the aim to retain water and spread water across the peat bog. This has already created little ponds throughout each of the sites offering improved habitats that are benefiting a whole host of wading birds and plant species.

“We are also using coir mats, made from coconut husk, in our peatland restoration efforts whereby the mats are placed over the bare peat followed by healthy heather, mosses and seed which will allow the peat to regenerate. We are committed to peatland restoration no matter how long it takes. It is estimated to take seven years for the peatland in these two sites to be fully regenerated and this will require annual progress reports and careful management by our gamekeepers.”

Jenny McCallum of Tomatin Moorland Group, which represents many of the estates undertaking the work in the Monadhliath, said:

“These crucial projects will help to restore and conserve these uplands so that future generations can enjoy our amazing peatland and blanket bogs. Estates in Tomatin have adopted an innovative, collaborative approach to conservation, at landscape-scale, to achieve significant benefits. A significant part of our work, year on year, is to create the right habitat for grouse, other ground-nesting bird species and the mammals, plants and other birds which thrive on our iconic Scottish moorland.”

[1] Source: Natural Environment Research Council, https://nerc.ukri.org/

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