Birdwatch News Archive
Sutherland Flow Country, with Loch Balligil creeping into frame and Ben Loyal's peaked ridge in the distance. Photo: Ian Cramman (commons.wikimedia.org).
Blanket bog bail out
Posted on: 14 Oct 2012
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has promised a grant to restore Europe’s largest intact expanse of blanket bog.
This is viewed by conservationists as one of the most significant contributions to Britain's climate change targets, as the HLF today announced a First Round pass for a grant of over £4 million, including development funding of £147,000, to restore Flow country peatlands.
‘Flow to the Future’ is an ambitious plan, co-ordinated by the Peatlands Partnership, to restore seven square miles of globally important blanket bog in Caithness and Sutherland. This will dramatically improve the habitats for many rare plants and species, such as Otter, Hen Harrier and European Golden Plover, while playing a critical role in the fight against climate change.
The peatlands of the Flow Country stem from the damp, cool conditions that have encouraged the growth of sphagnum moss and cotton grass since the last Ice Age, over 10,000 years ago. The partially-decayed plants have slowly formed layers of peat in places many metres deep. This ancient environment is a repository for vast amounts of carbon. An estimated 400 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the peat of the Flow Country, double the amount of carbon in all Britain's forests. One of Britain's last great wildernesses, the Flow Country has been put forward by the British Government as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After remaining largely untouched for millennia, the area underwent a massive change in the 1970s and 1980s with the planting of non-native conifers and deep forestry ploughing in an attempt to make the land more productive. Huge areas of blanket bog were damaged or eroded with devastating effect. Bog plants have been lost, rare bird species have seriously declined and carbon is now being emitted rather than absorbed and stored. A loss of only 5 per cent of the carbon stored in peat would equate to Britain’s total annual green house gas emissions.
The UK is a world-leader in peat restoration, some of it developed in the Flows, and this expertise will be used during this five-year landscape-scale project to restore the blanket bog. A new Field centre will be located at the RSPB’s Forsinard Flows nature reserve. The reserve is the RSPB’s largest, has been at the centre of peatland restoration work for 16 years. Volunteers, PhD, MSc, and BSc students from across the world, working alongside RSPB staff, will have the opportunity to train in monitoring and evaluation work and contribute to this emerging centre of excellence in peatland ecology, hydrology and carbon capture.
The current visitor centre at Forsinard Railway Station will be improved to provide an interpretative gateway with engaging and interactive exhibits, encouraging people to enjoy the landscape and its wildlife. New technologies and a mobile exhibition will bring the story of the peatlands to those that cannot visit.
Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “The Flow Country is an area of exceptional natural heritage merit. Over 8,000 years of the history of plants, weather and people lie preserved in its layers of peat. Yet this living landscape is as important to our future as it is to our heritage. We are delighted to be able to give our initial support to a project which will reverse the damage of earlier forestry planting, while we still can, and make an important contribution to the global climate change agenda.”
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