Why restore peatland?

Peatlands are a key part of the Scottish landscape, as well as our cultural and natural heritage. They are an internationally important habitat and a hugely important carbon store. Scotland’s peat soils cover more than 20% of the country and store around 1600 million tonnes of carbon. However, it is estimated that over 80% of our peatlands are degraded.  

Peatlands in good condition actively form peat, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing carbon in the soil. Conversely, degraded peatlands may emit more CO2 than they remove and become a net source of greenhouse gases (GHG). If we lost all of the carbon stored in our peat soils as CO2, it would be the equivalent of more than 120 times our annual GHG emissions.  Peatland restoration is therefore encouraged to help remove GHG from the atmosphere and combat climate change. The Scottish Government's climate change plan 2018-2032 update aims to restore at least 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030. 

Peatland restoration has many other benefits including providing an internationally important habitat, improving water quality and reducing flood risk.

To restore a peatland, you need to re-establish the environmental conditions required for peat to form.

How soil information can help you restore peatland

In general, knowing what soils you have will give an indication of how suitable your land is for supporting different types of vegetation.  For example, if you already have peat or peaty soil types on your land, you are more likely to be able to create the conditions necessary to restore peatland vegetation. Whereas, trying to create a peatland habitat in areas where no peat or peaty soils are present is less likely to work.

If you want to restore an area of damaged peatland, you will almost certainly need to undertake an initial desk-based assessment to determine the likely extent of peat and peaty soils across the area.

What soil information is available?

You can find out if there are likely to be peat or peaty soils and peatland habitat in your area from the Carbon and peatland 2016 map and from the Soil maps of Scotland. These maps are published at a broad scale so will not give you detailed site information but they will give you useful background information for use in an initial desk based assessment.  For more detailed, site specific information, you will more than likely need to carry out a field survey.

Carbon and peatland 2016 map

The Carbon and peatland 2016 map tells you where peat, other carbon rich soils and peatland habitats are likely to be found. It can be used to identify areas that may be suitable for restoration as they already have suitable soils or peat forming habitat. It is recommended for national to regional scale use and covers the whole of Scotland.

The Carbon and peatland 2016 map classifies land by the likely presence of, and relative proportions of, peat soils, other carbon rich soils and peatland habitat.  Land in classes 1 - 5 may be suitable for peatland restoration while land in class 0 is unlikely to be suitable for peatland creation / restoration.

The table below describes the soil and vegetation likely to be found in each class.

Class Class description Indicative soil Indicative vegetation
1 Nationally important carbon-rich soils, deep peat and priority peatland habitat. Areas likely to be of high conservation value Peat soil Peatland
2 Nationally important carbon-rich soils, deep peat and priority peatland habitat. Areas of potentially high conservation value and restoration potential Peat soil with occasional peaty soil Peatland or areas with high potential to be restored to peatland
3 Dominant vegetation cover is not priority peatland habitat but is associated with wet and acidic type. Occasional peatland habitats can be found. Most soils are carbon-rich soils, with some areas of deep peat Predominantly peaty soil with some peat soil Peatland with some heath
4 Area unlikely to be associated with peatland habitats or wet and acidic type. Area unlikely to include carbon-rich soils Predominantly mineral soil with some peat soil Heath with some peatland
5 Soil information takes precedence over vegetation data. No peatland habitat recorded. May also include areas of bare soil. Soils are carbon-rich and deep peat. Peat soil No peatland vegetation
0 Mineral soil - peatland habitats are not typically found on such soils Mineral soils No peatland vegetation
-1 Unknown soil type – information to be updated when new data are released Not classified (unknown soil type) Not applicable
-2 Non-soil (e.g. loch, built up area, rock and scree) No soil Not applicable

Find out more about the map and how it was made on the about the Carbon and peatland 2016 map page.

Soil maps of Scotland

The soil maps of Scotland tell you where you are likely to find peat soils and peaty soils. The National soil map of Scotland was originally produced at the 1:250,000 scale and covers the whole of Scotland while the Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) was originally produced at the 1:25,000 scale and covers predominantly cultivated agricultural land. So the soil maps can be used to find areas which have been suitable for peat formation in the past and now may be suitable for peatland restoration. They are recommended for national to regional use. 

The soil maps of Scotland use the Soil Survey of Scotland classification:

  • Peat soils are soils with an organic layer at the surface containing more than 60 % organic matter which is more than 50 cm deep; for example, blanket peat, basin peat. These soils are associated with peatland habitats now or have been in the past.
  • Peaty soils have an organic layer at the surface which is less than 50 cm thick; for example, peaty gleys, peaty podzols. These soils are associated with heath and peatland or have been in the past.

Find out more about the National soil map of Scotland and Soil map of Scotland (partial cover).

Forestry soil surveys generally follow a separate classification. A table to help you translate information from the Soil Survey of Scotland classification into the Forestry Commission (FC) classification system is given in ‘FC soil codes translation table’

Carbon rich soils is a term used to refer to peat and peaty soils.

Peatland ACTION

The Peatland ACTION project helps to restore damaged peatlands in Scotland. It provides funding mainly for on the ground restoration. Find out more on the Peatland ACTION webpages.

A Peatland ACTION restoration proposal is supported by a large amount of spatial data. Simple tools and guidance have been developed to help you create, edit and submit your data.

Useful links

This page was last updated on 19 Jun 2019

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