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22 Jun 2021

Peatland restoration project on Skye now complete

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A project to restore 35 hectares of peatland on the Trust’s Strathaird Estate on the Isle of Skye is now complete. With funding secured through the Peatland Action Fund, the project aims to rehabilitate these critical natural carbon sinks for both nature recovery and the climate.

The land we look after on Skye covers 12,000 hectares of rugged coastline, beautiful woodland, dramatic mountains, and important peatland; including the Sligachan Peatlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC), one of the most important and intact pool systems in the UK.

But it also contains commercial conifers planted before the Trust took ownership of the area — some on areas of deep peat. As well as being unsuitable for growing a timber crop, these important peatland areas are prohibited from carrying out their normal functions when choked by densely planted conifers.

What’s the bog deal?

  • Peatlands or bogs are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon store, capturing more than all of the Earth’s forests combined. The UK’s peatlands currently store more than three billion tonnes of carbon.
  • But 80 per cent of Scottish peatlands are damaged. Drained and burned for forestry, agriculture; trampled by sheep and deer, and built on for ‘green’ energy — our precious peatlands have suffered centuries of abuse.
  • When peat dries out, the organic matter is open to the air and starts to decompose, emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

Their recovery is critical to our journey, as a nation, toward net zero.

From feasibility to felling

In 2017, Peatland Action Officer Lucy Ballantyne from NatureScot carried out a scoping study of potential peatland restoration sites on Skye, and identified Faoilean, near the Bla Bheinn Munro, as a good possibility.

Building on Lucy’s study, local ecologist Adele Beck undertook a survey to examine the different peatland restoration options available for Faoilean. Adele’s study looked at peat depth and condition, drains and watercourses, classification of soils and deep peats and an assessment of timber volume. 

Armed with all the information we needed to move forward, and support from Scottish Forestry to amend our long-term forest plan for the area, the Trust engaged environmental forestry services contractor Duncan Wemyss Ltd to carry out the sensitive works, funded by NatureScot through their Peatland Action Fund programme.

Duncan and his talented team have over 35 years of experience in this work. In December 2020 they set about removing 17 hectares of Sitka spruce, using specialised machines to minimise damage to the surface of the delicate bog. Duncan’s team also created access tracks for the machinery out of the brash from the harvested spruce – a biodegradable road that helped protect the deep peat beneath.

Once all the timber had been removed, Duncan and his team set about blocking and reprofiling the ditches and furrows that had been created historically, to slow the flow of water and raise the water level of the bog. Remaining tree stumps were then flipped and pressed into the peat to smooth out the ridge and furrow systems. Peatbog will recover far more effectively if time is taken to make the surface as level as possible.

Work was completed at the end of April 2021.

What next?

  • Recovery takes time. On average peat bogs get just one millimetre deeper a year – for reference, human toenails grow 12 times faster.
  • The Trust has installed an interpretation board (funded as part of the project) at the Bla Bheinn car park and plans to install another slightly higher up the mountain path to inform and educate visitors about the work undertaken.
  • We are also scoping out other sites on Skye that might be suitable for similar restoration work.
  • Volunteer groups are involved in helping to remove any spruce that seeds on site – stay tuned to our events page to get involved!
  • Find out more about our work on Skye.
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