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Management of wet habitats

Many wet habitats, seen as unproductive, were drained to try to increase livestock and game numbers. Rewetting is now common.

Scotland has vast areas of wet ground. While we don’t suffer the water shortages that afflict much of the world, our bogs, fens and swamps limit our land use options. Most wet ground isn’t very productive for crops and livestock, and grouse also prefer dry ground much of the time.

However, Scottish Natural Heritage and others strongly discourage the digging of new drains in our remaining wetlands. Large-scale drainage efforts in the past have had limited benefits. Drainage has also caused problems for our biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage.

Drain blocking is now a major part of several habitat restoration projects. It’s also an option for Scottish Rural Development Programme support.

Wetlands benefits

We have well over 1 million hectares of bog – that’s more than one-eighth of Scotland’s total land area. Most of this is blanket bog, and there are also Lowland raised bogs.

Wet habitats are important for the plants and animals they support, some of which are found nowhere else. They are also important in storing water and controlling flow. Our bogs are where we find peat, which is valuable both in soil carbon management and in flavouring whisky.

Scotland has so much wet ground because its:

  • position at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean means we get a lot of rain
  • rocks, soils and landforms stop rainwater from draining away quickly

Peat develops in these regularly waterlogged conditions and in turn holds more water. Bog plants thrive, and so more peat is laid down.

Past drainage efforts

Our peatlands and other wetlands were drained extensively in the past to increase agricultural and sporting output. Government funding in the post-war years supported a great deal of this, as a way to increase food production.

Much of this effort was in vain. The expected agricultural benefits were never really realised – partly as rainfall soaked the ground again as quickly as water was drained away.