Seeing the Bog Through the Trees

Seeing the Bog Through the Trees

They all travelled to Dalchork Forest, near Lairg in Sutherland, in late September for a special event hosted by Forestry and Land Scotland, and supported by NatureScot’s Peatland ACTION team. The aim of the day was to highlight the important role of forest-to-bog restoration in tackling both the climate and biodiversity crises, explain the skills and techniques involved, and where Peatland ACTION can help support restoration projects. Essentially, at Peatland ACTION, we want to encourage and support landowners and managers to restore more peatlands.

Peatland ACTION is a national programme to drive forward peatland restoration across Scotland. On-the-ground work is funded by Scottish Government, supported by Peatland ACTION, who provide advice for landowners and managers, and training for contractors. With a commitment to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030, this is an ambitious but important programme which will address both the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Healthy peatlands are the largest natural store of carbon on land, as well as a vital habitat for some of our most threatened wildlife.

Dalchork Forest is made up of approximately 10,000ha of open habitats and plantations, where an impressive 16 peatland restoration projects have been carried out – all funded by Peatland ACTION – from 2014 to 2019.

Leading the day, Ian McKee, Peatland Technical Advisor at Forestry and Land Scotland, explained the unique draw of this site as a showcase of forest-to-bog peatland restoration.

“Dalchork Forest provides an excellent place for learning about forest-to-bog which helps enhance people’s understanding of this type of peatland work. By running these types of events, we shared our experiences with a view to giving people an open space for discussions and to learn from one another.

“As a vital contribution to the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan for net zero, and to address the biodiversity crisis, peatland restoration is a great example of a nature-based solution to climate change.  It was very encouraging to see so many interested parties attending an event focused on forest-to-bog peatland restoration.”

The day looked at the techniques needed to restore peatlands back to blanket bog that had previously been covered by forestry plantations, as well as how to monitor the sites over time and how different factors may affect progress. Throughout the day, our visitors stopped at a number of sites and heard about the tree harvesting and groundworks, such as ditch blocking and tree stump flipping, that had been carried out.  After being shown how to judge the relative speed that the habitat recovered, attendees compared each site, looking at which restoration method had been used and when, with opportunities for questions and discussion.

Attendees looked at aspects such as which vegetation species show that the bog is recovering well and which would show if it wasn’t.  Along with vegetation, water table depth and bare peat coverage are also used to judge how peatland restoration is going.

With a broad range of attendees the day also provided a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences.

“Event days such as those at Forestry and Land Scotland’s site in Dalchork Forest represent a great example of sharing best practice, upskilling and building confidence in peatland restoration work. It also helps build relationships across the sector and encourages new parties to consider moving into peatland work.

‘We want to say thanks to Forestry and Land Scotland for sharing their expertise in forest-to-bog peatland restoration and in providing invaluable knowledge of the Dalchork site. The progress it has made on the road to recovery and the wealth of techniques applied to the site have created a fantastic learning resource.”

As the Dalchork event highlighted, Peatland ACTION also provides technical advice and training for machine operators and companies looking to move into peatland restoration. As well as in-person training, there is also a suite of technical restoration resources providing details of how to do ditch blocking, bunding, reprofiling, and surface smoothing.

With such high demand for these types of event, Peatland ACTION is aiming to provide similar opportunities in the future. Beyond these in-person events, there are plenty of opportunities to find out more about Peatland ACTION and the funding, advice and support available to anyone interested in restoring Scotland peatland at our dedicated online hub.

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