Peatland ACTION case study: What's the connection between peat and integrated land management?
What's the connection between peat and integrated land management? The answer is working in collaboration with partners - like Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority - and landowners to restore peatlands as part of wider estate management.
Often the peatlands on an estate are seen as “dead ground” only being “productive” for stalking or to grow livestock or wood-stock. These activities can lead to the erosion of peatlands, and if left unchecked are contributing to the depletion of this habitat, causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and are not commercially sustainable.
By looking at the estate businesses as a whole through integrated land management plans (where land, water, and biodiversity are considered together rather than separately), the value of healthy peatlands can be seen as a benefit not only to the estate but to the wider public. By taking action to reverse the degradation of these habitats, estates can have a positive effect on other estate activities including herbivore and water management, and also provide a public benefit.
Peatland ACTION Project Officer, Richard Cooper, for Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, picks up the story.
Integrated Land Management – getting started.
Auchlyne & Suie Estate - which is nestled in Glen Dochart on the northern edge of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park – underwent peatland restoration work in 2017.
Reflecting on the success of this project the landowner owner Emma Paterson worked with Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority’s Land Management Team to take a more holistic view of the estate. Together they identified project opportunities that could improve both the financial and environmental sustainability of the business.
My role as the peatland specialist, as part of delivering the National Park Partnership Plan, was to survey, plan and facilitate this further work.
• farming domestic stock - highland and shorthorn cattle, and sheep including Blackface, which are ideally suited to the hills in Glen Dochart, crossed, over the years, with Swaledales to improve the milk yields in ewes;
• forestry - regeneration projects, felling old monoculture conifer plantations to allow native species to regenerate naturally and planting of about 100ha of native woodland;
• sporting interests - salmon and trout fishing, deer stalking, pheasants and wildfowling;
• diversification - including conservation, renewable energy (3 run-of-river hydro schemes), development of new and existing buildings, recreation and tourism (B&B and developing holiday lets in the future).
In taking this overview of the estate and its management, the team looked at a full range of factors that influence peatland recovery:
• Herbivore pressure on the hills and its carrying capacity;
• Future effects of global warming on the land;
• Business opportunities (tourism, farming, forestry);
• Breeding bird habitats;
• Landscape-scale initiatives inc. Breadalbane and Balquhidder Deer Management Groups;
• Designated Sites;
• Water environment; and
• Grant funding availability.
Consideration was also given to entering the Scottish Rural Development Programme, the Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS).
Overall this led to the writing of an estate plan with outputs including:
• The application to AECS for funding to do various environmental works across the holding;
• The undertaking of a Habitat Impact Assessment as part of a wider initiative to assist Deer Management Groups to use the current funding incentives to help deliver the monitoring;
• The application to NatureScot’s Peatland ACTION grant scheme to start some peatland recovery.
There was an acknowledgement that peat was degrading on the holding. This was partly due to previous government schemes supporting the construction of drains (grips) and historic over-grazing of livestock (as illustrated by the presence of hags on Bovain). Having degrading peat has no long-term advantages, and is ultimately unsustainable.
Success of peatland restoration phase 1 led to phase 2
There was a view that restoring the peatlands on the estate would not be detrimental to the holding and would fit well with the estates ethos of being environmentally sustainable. This led to the submission of a Peatland ACTION Fund application in 2016/17 to address peat degradation on the Bovain area of the Auchlyne estate. The Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority’s Land Management Team helped deliver the project by getting contractors onto the site and project managing the work.
The success of the restoration works at Bovain (phase1) led to further work being considered. I surveyed the second area and as a result we made a second application in 2017/18 for the Innishewan Ford area (phase 2) of the estate, where the main peat degradation was the grips that had been cut into the peat 50 years previously.
Given the reduction in grazing in the 20 years preceding the project, the main pressures on the peatland were the active draining through the grips, and the effect of weathering on the exposed peat.
To address these the object of the Peatland ACTION projects was to:
1. Block the grips to raise the water table, and prevent fast flow through which erodes the peat edges. Overall this should slow the flow from the peat, reducing erosion and allowing sphagnum to grow across the site;
2. Vegetate bare peat; by reprofiling the peat hags, or covering over areas of bare peat with turves that will allow revegetation;
3. Raise the water table and reduce flow in areas of micro-hags to allow sphagnum to recolonise and restart peat formation.
To set the peatlands of Auchlyne & Suie Estate on the road to restoration the following techniques were employed
Peat hags were re-profiled with excavators to ensure revegetation of the peat faces.
And gullies were blocked with peat dams to slow the flow and help prevent the water undercutting the peat hags.
So far so good. Addressing the areas of braided mini-hags on the other hand would be more challenging, mostly because the heavy machinery was unable to access these areas. Clearly something needed to be done to prevent further erosion and potential loss of the unstable peaty soils. The first thing we did was to raise the water table by blocking the main channels that drained these areas with peat bunds and peat dams. This was done to prevent the site from drying out, and encourage sphagnum mosses (the key bog builder) and other bog plants to re-colonise naturally.
The second thing we did was re-profile the hags on the outer edge of these areas; these are more accessible to the large diggers. The contractors were able to reduce the angle of the bare peat slope and, where possible, cover over with turves to prevent further erosion outwards.
Holistic estate management capitalises on healthier peatlands
The benefits are clear:
• With more water retained within the peat the flow regime of the hydro scheme is smoothed, with reduced peak flow and longer flow in times of low rainfall.
• The ground with a healthier vegetated surface rather than bare peat, offers an “early bite” i.e. certain plant growth happens earlier in the spring allowing the estate to put stock out earlier, or reduce supplementary feeding.
• The infilling of the grips will reduce the number of lambs and other animals lost down the drains where they are unable to escape and often not found (known as “black loss”).
• Re-profiled hags makes travel across the peatland easier and prevents tracking in the only navigable areas (that could lead to localised erosion). Thus deer management is made easier as carcasses can be more easily extracted from the site.
• The improved landscape may have a benefit for tourism to the estate. Not only is the landscape better to visit (no uninteresting bare peat areas), but the increase in wildlife using the area means the estate are looking at offering a “wildlife safari” type experience – using their stalker, in addition to his usual duties, and that complements the landscape in which he works.
• By looking at estate management in a holistic way a business can capitalise on its peatlands and restore them to provide sustainable benefits.
The use of Integrated Land Management Planning helps highlight the inter-connectivity of different aspects of the estate. By undertaking peatland restoration, the roles of grazing pressures, retained water, and landscape and wildlife enhancement within the estate business are better understood. These benefits may take time to be realised in the estate finances but will ensure the business is environmentally on a more sustainable footing.
The other benefits obtained through peatland restoration are often having impacts beyond the estate boundary and for the wider public good: carbon storage, flood prevention, wildlife and landscape enhancement. With these public benefits it is seen that public funding is appropriate in taking the restoration forward, especially as it was government incentives of the past that had an adverse effect on these habitats.
Even with no obvious gains to an estate’s business, the restoration to healthy living peatlands will have no detriment to it, and wider public benefits can be gained. The positive action of an estate to bring these habitats back into a healthy, sustainable state can therefore demonstrate how the estate fits in with the wider landscape, and its role in supporting the environment for all.
For further information, or to get involved with Peatland ACTION
Peatland restoration within the park contributes to all four Conservation and Land Management outcomes of the National Park’s Partnership Plan - which is guided by the overarching vision to ensure a successful, and sustainable future for this iconic place.
If you would like to contribute to the on-going work of Peatland ACTION please contact [email protected]
Peatland ACTION case studies: We demonstrate links between peat condition and: fisheries; grouse; carbon storage; wildlife; landscapes; human history; and so much more.