The recent announcement by the UK Government of a further £50m towards restoration of peatland in England, and the proposed ban on sale of peat products in garden centres by 2024, is a boost in the fight against climate change. It is part of an increasing focus by both the UK and Scottish Governments on preserving the benefits that peatland has in terms of carbon capture and reversing the trend of increasing carbon emissions created by peatland that has been damaged.

Why Peatland?

Peatland plays a key role in Scotland's natural and cultural heritage, covering approximately 20% of Scotland's land mass. Peatland in good condition is a key player in the fight against climate change, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it. In fact, peatland can contain store twice as much carbon as forests. Peatland also helps with flood prevention, by trapping and soaking up surface water that might otherwise run into watercourses and lead to downstream flooding.

However, not all of our peatland is in good health. It is estimated that around 80% of Scotland's peatland is damaged. Peat must be wet to perform its critical carbon storing function, however peat is often cultivated, drained and degraded. In this degraded state, the peat releases carbon dioxide and as a result, is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Without any action being taken to stabilise and restore Scotland's peatlands, their condition will continue to deteriorate and result in a huge environmental cost for future generations.

How to restore peatland?

Urgent action is being taken worldwide to protect and sustainably manage peatland, protecting it from degrading activities such as agricultural conversion and drainage. However, as much of Scotland's peatland is already damaged, peatland restoration is vital to avoid significant emissions of carbon in future. The principal aim is to restore the peatland to its original form and function, involving "re-wetting" or restoring the natural flow of water and soil saturation. In comparison to other carbon reduction techniques, peatland restorations bring significant levels of carbon savings at a moderate cost and large areas of land can be restored without any major alterations to the land use.

Incentives for Landowners to Restore Peatland

The restoration of peatland has become a huge focus of the Scottish Government in recent years. It has provided farmers, landowners, and land managers with the opportunity to access a significant amount of funding to undertake peatland restoration projects, while the IUCN UK Peatland Programme which includes the Peatland Code also promotes and facilitates the restoration of peatland across the UK. There is a recognition that without funding, peatland restoration is often not accessible to landowners and managers, and the Peatland Code seeks to connect landowners with private funding to tackle restoration whilst also setting out a series of best practice requirements to give assurances that the restoration will provide climate benefits that are both viable and permanent.

Not just a win for the climate

Peatland restoration, conservation and management can have other benefits too:

  • it is attractive for those landowners and business owners who want to ensure that they are meeting their corporate social responsibilities;
  • it can help promote economic growth in rural areas, bringing new opportunities for employment;
  • it can improve the landscape and environment, benefiting wildlife and boosting tourism.

It is hoped that these benefits, coupled with the funding support on offer from the Scottish Government and Peatland Code, will encourage more interest in peatland restoration in the coming years, which can only be a good thing for us and our planet.


Lucy Rice

Trainee Solicitor