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Why are healthy peatlands important?


Peat soils in Scotland contain almost 25 times as much carbon as all other plant life in the UK. The carbon stored in Scotland's soils (notably peat and peaty soil) is equivalent to over 180 years of greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland at current emission rates.

Healthy peatlands keep carbon locked up, and continue to absorb and store more. Degraded bogs emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, which contribute to climate change.

Restoring peat-forming habitat previously drained or damaged ensures that the bog remains as a long-term sink rather than a greenhouse gas source.


Scotland's peatlands are an internationally important wildlife habitat.  They are known for their moorland breeding birds, and interesting plants, like the insectivorous sundews and butterwort. However, the humble bog moss Sphagnum drives the process of peat formation.


Healthy upland peatlands provide a regulating function by absorbing atmospheric pollutants including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen and heavy metals. This important role improves water quality to downstream areas.

Degradation of peatland habitat increases the amount of carbon in water, which results in water discolouration and requires extra treatment before it comes through our taps. Not only costly; this process is carbon intensive and can bring the risk of harmful by-products.

Healthy peatlands also regulate runoff which can help reduce downstream flooding, and they are important for maintaining base flows in our upland streams during dry spells. Our peatlands are therefore important for sustaining:

  • productive fisheries;
  • high quality drinking water;
  • flood regulation; and 
  • help give our single malts their unique flavours!


Peatlands add to our quality of life. Our upland peatland areas form some of our most iconic, wild and cherished landscapes.

The hills are popular places to visit and use for recreation, particularly hill-walking and deer-stalking. Outdoor recreation is important to the rural economy.

Working landscapes

Many peatland areas are used for farming, particularly to produce store lambs which are sold on for fattening in the lowlands. Some grazing is good for peatlands, encouraging species diversity. However, we must avoid over-grazing, particularly in exposed uplands link to image and agricultural practices that require drainage of peatlands, since this causes degradation and erosion.

Cultural and Environmental archive

Our peatlands are a valuable archive of our past. The palaeoenvironmental archive preserved within the peat, including pollen, plant and insect remains can be studied to reveal aspects of past changes in climate, environment and vegetation; this includes the origin and development of the peatlands.

Peatlands are also culturally significant with archaeological finds giving clues to human activity over thousands of years.

Last updated on Friday 17th July 2015 at 09:56 AM. Click here to comment on this page