James Fenton www.fenton.scot
james h c fenton WWW.FENTON.SCOT
The nature conservation movement is as much a follower of bandwagons as everyone else. A new idea comes along, a bandwagon is created and everyone unthinkingly jumps on it! A recent example is peatland restoration: peat stores a lot of carbon, there is a lot of peatland erosion, ergo we should restore the peatlands. This is very simplistic: certainly where human-caused damage is obvious, we should put it right. However, it is frequently stated that “85% of Scotland’s peatlands are damaged”: this is so often said that everyone thinks it must be true. But, apart from obvious damage from peat extraction, moor grips and tree planting, there is very little evidence to support this (not a shred of evidence, in my view!). There may well be erosion on 85% of Scotland’s peat but this not the same as saying they are ‘damaged’. Erosion is a perfectly naturally feature of upland blanket peat with little evidence that most of it is human-caused. It might seem self-evident to many people that trampling damage from grazing animals (sheep or deer) is a major cause of erosion. But, perhaps surprisingly, a report from the then Scottish Natural Heritage showed no correlation between the amount of peat erosion and herbivore density*. In any case, peatlands have low nutritional value with only about 1% offtake by grazing animals, so they do not attract grazers in large numbers. Certainly trampling (or wallowing) by animals, for example red deer in corries, can cause localised damage, but this must always have been the case. An eroding area of blanket, near the end of its millennial old life, is likely also to be more subject to erosion by animals than a younger bog. I have produced a critique of the peatland restoration bandwagon which can be downloaded here. To me it seems wrong to interfere with natural processes in a habitat for which Scotland is the world centre: after all, one of the biggest call of NGOs is ‘not to interfere with natural processes’. The climate mitigation benefits of many peatland restoration schemes appear to me to be more of assertions rather than based on quantitative evidence. Even if there is some minor climate benefit, does this mean we should be allowed to interfere with natural processes in the world centre of the temperate blanket peat? James Fenton June 2023 *Cummins, R., Donnelly, D., Nolan, A., Towers, W., Chapman, S., Grieve, I. and Birnie, R.V. (2011). Peat erosion and the management of peatland habitats. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 410.
Dr James Fenton, Seil Island, Scotland www.fenton.scot ecology@fenton.scot
Web design by James Fenton Xara Web Designer Coyright 2023
January 2023 A Field Guide to Ice Click here for details ** DECEMBER 2023 **Now available Landscape Change in the Scottish Highlands: Imagination & Reality Whittles Publishing Click here to buy June 2023 Restoration of Upland Peats:A Discussion DocumentClick here for details November 2023 New piano music - go to music page
An 8-minute audio version of Chapters 2 & 3, the critique of reforestation, is now available from SciPod