Four-fifths of Scotland’s peatland is damaged and could be leaking greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Scottish Natural Heritage has warned.
Peatland, which covers about a fifth of Scotland’s landscape, stores carbon dioxide, sustains vegetation and is also a vital source of water for Scotland’s whisky industry.
But SNH says about 70 per cent of blanket bog and 90 per cent of raised bog is damaged, causing it to leak carbon rather than store it.
Much of the damage has come from agriculture draining water from peatland and forestry plantations on valuable land.
SNH has now published a national peatland plan to protect, manage and restore the resource. Its chairman, Ian Ross, said: “These wonderful habitats and landscapes have taken thousands of years to form and it is our special duty to ensure we take the necessary steps to keep them vibrant, peat-rich and healthy.
“I am especially pleased that growing numbers of people are realising the importance of peat and we must continue to find ways of supporting the crucial peatland restoration and management work so vital for nature and wider society.”
Scotland has more than two million hectares of peat, one of the richest collections in Europe, and SNH said it expected improved protection and condition of the land by 2020. It should be “healthy” by 2030, the report proposes.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) UK Peatland Programme welcomed the restoration plan and backed the call for society to embrace peat-free gardening, and public funding to support management.
Chairman of the Peatland Programme, Jonathan Hughes, said: “Scotland’s national peatland plan is a vital to tackling the globally important issue of peatland conservation.
“We must all play our part but clear leadership from the Scottish Government with the right policies and funding in place is essential if people are to be empowered to look after Scotland’s peatlands and appreciate their true benefits to society.” Dr Aileen McLeod, minister for environment, said: “Scotland is a peat-rich nation and our peatlands are now recognised globally for their outstanding biodiversity and carbon storage.
“I am also greatly heartened by the significant roles played by land managers and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in improving peatlands.”
The plan follows the minister’s statement on greenhouse gas targets in which the Scottish Government committed a further £3 million for peatland restoration this year.