Barvas Estate Peatland Restoration

Scotland’s Peatlands

Over a fifth of Scotland’s land area is made up of peat soils covering large areas of the Highlands and Islands, Central belt and Galloway and the Borders.  There are two main types of peatland, Blanket Bog and Raised Bog. Both types of Peatland have been damaged by past and present management.  It is estimated that at least 50% of Scotland’s peatland is in poor condition and could benefit from restoration of some kind.

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are wetlands which have accumulated large amounts of carbon-rich peat.

Peatlands are an internationally renowned for being important habitats to rare plants, invertebrates and birds. They are also a place for recreation such as hillwalking and sporting and cultural as a valuable archive of our past both on the Barvas Estate and across the Islands.

Why they are important

Peatlands help us to reduce the effects of climate change as they store significant quantities of carbon.  Although peatlands only cover about 20% of Scotland’s total land area, they store 25 times more carbon than all the vegetation of the UK.  Peatlands in good condition maintain the wet, acidic and low oxygen conditions required to stop dead plant material being fully decomposed and all of their carbon being released back into the atmosphere.  Greenhouses gases are released to the atmosphere naturally but the rate of release is greatly accelerated when peatlands dry out contributing to global warming.

The Restoration Project

Barvas Estate Trust, with the Arnol Grazings Committee, worked with Ben Inglis-Grant, Peatland Action Officer to find an area of degraded peatland and begin a restoration project.

The proposed site was situated on the western area of Loch Urghag covering an area of just over 28 hectares of eroding or degraded peatland. The area is typically rough grazing and is within the Arnol Common Grazings area which is and has been used for domestic peat cutting to be used as fuel. The project was designed to re-profile eroding peat hags, both naturally forming and because of hand cut peat banks.

The soil types were peat and peat gleys and the site consisted of peat hags and drainage features including a 420-metre-long drain cutting across the site. The volume of water the drain was removing from the peatland was having a damaging impact on the areas further up and away from the loch at the top of the drain where there was a lot of micro erosion and hag and gully systems present. The proposed restoration re-profiled the edge of this drain and then inserted peat dams at sensible intervals along its length.

Restoration work

Traditional peat cutting banks, used for domestic fuel, lay within the proposed areas and have a strong connection to the loch. Many of the cuttings were old and abandoned, however the footer ditches were still functional, with wind and rain erosion taking place in the ditches and on the exposed peat faces. In most cases there was a sufficient vegetated buffer between the ditches and the loch edge to capture and remove most of the particulate peat, but the dissolved carbon would still have found its way to the loch.

Using a low ground pressure excavator, we were able to re-profile and compress the peat banks to reduce the amount of bare peat surfaces, simultaneously blocking all footer ditches to spread water flow across the vegetated surfaces. The strategy to this phase of restoration was to re-profile the existing hags and gullies to then identify where peat dams should be positioned to ensure they are adequately spaced in the drains and gullies.

As the restoration started later than expected we ran into the Bird Breeding Season and had to appoint Anna Reid as site Ecologist to provide guidance to machine operators to ensure works could continue as long as possible into the breeding season without causing any issues. During the final days before pausing for the bird breeding season Anna then found evidence of otters being active on site so works was stopped then and a Works with Otter license was applied for to Nature Scot to allow works to resume after the bird breeding season.

Restoration outcome

The beneficiaries of these works include, but are not limited to, Arnol Common Grazings as the land can continue to be used as rough grazing into the future once the peatland has had a chance to stabilise and vegetation returns to the previously bare areas of peat. The improved loch edge should result in a better quality of water flowing into the loch which will help with improving biodiversity on the peatland and in the loch, which feeds the Hatchery. Also, the Scottish public will benefit because of this restoration aims to retain Green House Gases and restore a degraded ecosystem.

The project involved the partnership working of Peatland ACTION, Urras Oighreachd Bharabhais, Arnol Common Grazings and the contractor CalMax Construction Limited.

With support from