Senior Land Use Policy Officer, Jim Densham, brings us this latest blog on the importance of Scotland's blanket bog habitats and what needs to be done to protect them.
Being called a wet blanket is not a term of endearment, far from it in fact. It refers to someone who discourages enjoyment or fun, and alludes to using a wet blanket to smother a fire. It’s funny how a potentially life-saving thing like a wet blanket is also used as a derogatory term.
At RSPB Scotland we love wet blankets - you could say we are the wet blanket champion! We love natural wet blankets that is – blanket bogs. Blanket bog is a very wet habitat dominated by sphagnum moss, home to soaring hen harriers, insectivorous sundew and splendid golden plovers, to name a few species.
The sphagnum lies like a sopping wet blanket over the saturated underlying peat. Peat is rich in carbon and with a fifth of Scotland covered by blanket bogs, often with peat metres in depth, it is estimated that Scotland holds 1500 million tonnes of carbon. Losing just 1% of this peat is equal to a whole year of Scotland’s carbon emissions. So you can see that this natural living wet blanket is also essential for our planet’s health.
To keep our blanket bogs healthy and functioning they have to be wet and undamaged. But presently, 78% of our blanket bogs in Scotland are damaged and are actually releasing dangerous amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. Damaged, bare, dried out peatland releases carbon into the air just like a dry or holey towel would be pretty poor at quenching a chip-pan fire.
We have to re-wet and restore our bogs if we are to save this unique home for nature and meet our climate targets – like a wet blanket putting out the ‘fire’ of global warming. And with the Paris Agreement being signed by the UK last week we are duty bound to step up action.
Last week the Scottish Government announced £400,000 of new funding for peatland restoration in Scotland, which is excellent news. It will be used to continue restoration projects kicked off previously with money from Government and other sources. The £400,000 is welcome and we are calling on Government to promise more in its Climate Change Plan early next year. We want to see at least 21,000 ha of peatland restored each year in Scotland, which could cost in the region of £4.2 million.
At RSPB Scotland, we are ready to do more too. At our nature reserves, such as Forsinard Flows in Caithness and Sutherland and Airds Moss in Ayrshire, we have the potential to do more restoration, but it needs financial investment. We also want our restoration activities to count towards bringing down Scotland’s carbon footprint.
At present the accounting rules for this have not yet been accepted and introduced by the UK and Scottish Governments. Doing so would recognise all the positive restoration work done over the past 25 years as on the whole in Scotland, since carbon accounting started, more peatland habitats have been restored than damaged. Accounting for the carbon benefits would, we believe, encourage private investors and give a big incentive for a huge step up in blanket bog restoration.
One year ago First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said peatland restoration was 'one of the best investments we can make as a society'. It's time to make good on this statement and commit to funding much more peatland restoration and including the carbon benefit of this in the national carbon accounts.