Red Deer Stags in winter. ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Peatland ACTION case study: What's the connection between peat and deer management?

What's the connection between peat and deer management? The answer is working in partnership with Deer Management Groups.

This case study focuses on peatland restoration across 14 estates in the Monadhliath Deer Management Group (MDMG) over a three year period between 2017 and 2020.

The Monadhliath Deer Management Group is the largest in Scotland by membership and area, with a complex range of issues, including deer impacts. 

This project covers generally remote high altitude sites experiencing severe winter weather, with extensive drainage and gullying. The estates generally have a focus on deer stalking and/or grouse shooting.

Monadhliath Deer Management Group - (MDMG)

The Monadhliath Deer Management Group (MDMG) consists mainly of deer stalking and grouse shooting estates and covers 175,733ha, between Spean Bridge, Aviemore, Loch Ness and Inverness.  

The group began a collaborative landscape-scale project in 2017-18.

The drivers for peatland restoration

The group acknowledged that the peat was degrading through drainage and erosion. Previous land management practices had supported the construction of drains (grips), and there had been historic overgrazing, mostly by deer. 

Around 1,500ha of peatland was identified as a priority for restoration over a three year period, using Peatland ACTION funding. Fourteen estates in the DMG were interested and six estates started practical restoration work February in the first year. The remaining eight estates had peatland restoration feasibility studies carried out. By late 2019, six estates had completed restoration activities on 1,200ha of peatland.

Due to its complexity and size, Peatland ACTION funded Strath Caulidh Ltd (SCL) to manage and coordinate the project. SCL have spent a lot of time on site monitoring the work, and training and discussing restoration techniques with contractors.

The impacts of deer

The impacts of deer can have a major influence on habitat restoration: trampling and grazing are two of the biggest pressures on the condition of the Scottish uplands. If deer densities are high then restoration work may be at risk.

The goal of the MDMG’s Strategic Deer Management Plan (SDMP) is to reduce local deer densities in order to achieve high standards of deer welfare, as well as improving habitat condition. In order to achieve this goal, the SDMP includes an ambition to deliver landscape-scale habitat management and restoration. One of the key elements of this programme is peatland restoration.

What were the issues?

  • Degraded, bare peat has the potential to release far more atmospheric carbon dioxide than it can sequester.
     
  • Exposed peat erodes particulates into water courses, impacting on freshwater species including commercially important species such as Atlantic salmon and protected species such as the fresh water pearl mussel. Several of the MDMG sites are in the catchment of the River Spey Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is designated for these species.
     
  • As a deer management group the aim is to encourage and support multiple landowners to carry out peatland restoration.
     
  • Restoring peatland contributes to the Code of Practice for Deer Management Public Interests. The Code requires wild deer managers to prevent damage to peatland.

The challenges of working at high altitude

The weather in the Monadhliath is particularly harsh and is probably the most extreme of anywhere where peatland restoration is being attempted on mainland Scotland except perhaps the Cairngorms. Peatland restoration is hampered by a very short growing season, snow cover, extremely high winter winds, frost heave and heavy rainfall.

Working over winter can become impossible. Restoration areas can be covered in snow, access routes can be too icy for staff to travel to the site safely, and attempting to build dams during icy weather can lead to snow or ice being incorporated into the dam and leaving voids which allow water through when this melts.

 

What is being done to restore the peat?

Practical work is mostly focused on drain blocking. Drain blocking is easier and quicker than gully or peat pan restoration and there is more existing scientific evidence of its long term effectiveness. By focusing primarily on drain blocking, larger areas of damaged peat can be restored within a given amount of time and funding. 

Drains are being restored using wave damming, a new technique developed by SCL. With this method it is quicker to create each dam but individual dams are not as strong, so they are spaced closer together than standard peat dams. Toothed re-profiling is used between the dams. This creates a very shallow profile to a re-profiled drain, making it easy to walk across and easy for vegetation to thrive in. This can mean it’s hard to even see where the drain was.

Some gully and peat pan work is also being carried out, to explore the most effective restoration methods. Where gullies and peat hags are being restored eroding edges are re-profiled and bunding installed in gully bases. Cell-bunding and sphagnum mulching are being used in areas of bare exposed peat pans.

Benefits of restoration at this site

  • Help to improve the vegetation’s ability to re-establish in this area of very extreme weather;
  • Damming drains and gullies to create pools should increase water availability during drought periods. This may help the survival of grouse and other birds by allowing increased access to drinking water during drought periods, and support larger numbers of insect species which the birds need for food;
  • Reduced loss of animals into grip voids. Grouse chicks find it difficult to climb out of deep drains once they have fallen in, and often perish there as a result. Re-profiling the drains between dams prevents this;
  • Improved water quality in River Spey SAC which has branches in several of the restoration areas. Designated for Atlantic salmon, FWPM, otter and sea lamprey;
  • Improved blanket bog habitat (Monadhliath Special Area of Conservation (SAC));
  • Improved blanket bog habitat of Monadhliath Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This should also improve the habitat for the designated breeding dotterel, upland assemblage, possibly vascular plant assemblage and breeding bird assemblage features;
  • Contribute to Scotland’s ability to store carbon;
  • Contribute to the delivery of designated features into Favourable Condition.
  • Peat bogs provide many benefits including for sporting management – sustaining deer stalking, grouse shooting and fishing enterprises.

 

For further information, or to get involved with PeatlandACTION

Peatland ACTION case studies: We demonstrate links between peat condition and: fisheries; grouse; carbon storage; wildlife; landscapes; human history; and so much more. 

If you would like to contribute to the on-going work of Peatland ACTION please contact [email protected]

Project information: www.nature.scot/peatlandaction

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