Thursday, April 11

Wet, ancient and fantastic: Scotland’s peatlands breathe again | Scotland


FLanders The moss bog collapses into the flat, cultivated landscape of Scotland’s Carse of Stirling like a jelly mushroom. It wobbles when you walk on it, and a metal pole drops eight meters before hitting hard ground. This lowland bog is a peat dome fed mainly by rain and acts as a single organism: you have to take care of everything so that any part is in very good condition. If it drains into one area, it will affect the water level throughout the swamp.

For much of human history, peatlands have been considered wastelands. This 860-hectare (2,125-acre) site has been hacked and drained since the early 1800s to make room for fertile farmland below. It is about 60% of its original size. Swamps heal easily and drainage ditches made more than 100 years ago are still visible.

Peatlands are now recognized to be among the largest carbon pools and, after decades of restoration, holes in the Flanders Moss peat have been repaired. Areas that used to be purple with heather are turning green as key swamp plants like sphagnum (peat) and milkweed return. The swamp emerges from the ground like a sponge and “breathes” when changes in the weather and the water level cause it to swell and contract.

Researchers in Scotland are tracking “swamp breathing” using the latest satellite technology which can detect only a few millimeters of change. This provides an accurate test of how healthy the site is and how much carbon it might contain. Flanders Moss holds around 3 million tons carbon.

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Thanks to restoration work, the water table has risen up to 40 cm at the site and is now on the surface. As the swamp draws water from the surrounding land, it helps manage the risk of flooding. Flanders Moss bog has removed 890 hectares of land from the Forth Basin, reduce flooding down river.

A healthy swamp is a bit like a poorly functioning compost heap. “With a pile of compost, we keep throwing things away and everything rots and decomposes, but with a swamp, it doesn’t. It just keeps piling up and piling up, ”says David Pickett, who manages the site, which is a National Nature Reserve.

Flanders Moss Map

Scottish government funded Peatland Action Project, which started in 2012, is helping revive 25,000 hectares of degraded peatlands. In 2020, the Scottish government committed £ 250 million of funding over 10 years for the restoration of a marsh in an attempt to lock carbon in the ground. It is hoped that satellite data can be used to determine which wetlands are in urgent need of help and what efforts are working.

“At some point, hopefully, we will be able to inform the government, but also private investors and other funding bodies, to tell them ‘well, you better put your money on these sites,'” says Henk Pieter Sterk, who is working on the Peatland Action project at NatureScot. “Here in Scotland, we have the opportunity to protect and restore peatlands… It’s the easiest thing you can do. Restoring peatlands is a no-brainer. “

It takes about a month to process satellite data for a third of Scotland, which is available through the Copernicus Open Access Center. The technology is still in development, but it is likely to be cheaper than terrestrial mapping. “Next steps would include looking at an even wider range of peatland types and conditions in Scotland, followed hopefully by an assessment of the tool across the UK for the same purpose,” says Sterk.

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Despite these restoration efforts, Flanders Moss remains a net carbon emitter. The marshes of Scotland cast around 10 million tons of carbon equivalent, which almost as much as the transport sector. Stopping these emissions and preventing further degradation are the main goals of the restoration project.

Flanders Moss
Wildflowers in Flanders Moss. Photography: NatureScot

Swamps work in a different time frame than humans. They form slowly, accumulating between 0.5 mm to 1 mm of peat per year, taking up to 1,000 years to grow one meter. But Pickett’s team has driven the recovery. “We’ve done most of the great work here,” he says. “Now it’s a matter of waiting. The repair process for this site will take 100 years, and the benefits of the work that is being done now will only be seen by the next generation. “

It’s easy to see why swamps weren’t popular. They are deposits of partially decomposed organic matter, which are too acidic and lack the nutrients to keep trees healthy. But this swamp is colorful and smells fresh and earthy. In addition to being a fantastic carbon pool, this ancient watery land … Healthy peat is about 90% water. – it’s also rich in wildlife, including lizards, dragonflies, and even rare snakes.

“There are no hot headlines like puffins and seals, but you walk the boardwalk and it’s a fantastic place,” says Pickett. “I always thought the swamps should be named on a Friday after a really bad week. We are trying to change the perception of the swamps, but it is difficult to sell. “

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