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For Peat’s Sake

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Article written by 09 August 2012
For Peats Sake

For peat’s sake – new project to discover hidden depths

GAME & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) researchers have embarked upon a new project in Scotland to link peat depths on grouse moors with best practice management.

This innovative piece of research will build a picture of how peat depth and heather cover varies on moors and what are the optimum conditions that moorland managers need to maintain for both the soils and for the red grouse.

Heather, and especially young heather, is an important food source for red grouse. This habitat is routinely burned as the practice increases the diversity of heather structures, creating more niches for grouse increasing breeding density and grouse productivity. Carefully managed muirburn can also deter wildfires by creating fire breaks and control zones.

Further work is needed to understand whether poorly managed or unnecessary fires on bogs and heaths impact on the environment by damaging peat. This damage may be seen in reduced rates of peat deposition which impacts on carbon storage. But other effects such as increased greenhouse gas emissions, erosion and water discolouration are possibilities.

Research being conducted by the Trust in northern England suggests these negative effects are not always clear cut. So Trust researchers will be recording peat depth and burning intensity on all their core grouse count sites in Scotland where they already record numbers of passerines, waders and mountain hare. The peat analysis will add value to the monitoring carried out and help us advise managers on the best management regime for upland areas.

The management of peatlands is important because millennia of soil development means that the UK has a massive amount of carbon stored in peat, many times greater than in above ground plants. In the UK there are also significant deposits with high-carbon content of a lesser depth, for example in the Lammermuir and Pentland Hills and these may be at more risk from wildfire than deeper, wetter deposits. The challenge for upland management is to ensure that the maximum amount of carbon stored and being stored within the peatland system is retained while the incentive for managing above ground biodiversity on moors, red grouse, continues.

Dr Adam Smith, Director Scotland GWCT, said: “Our aim with this research is to ensure moorland managed for red grouse offers both carbon storage and biodiversity conservation through game management.”

Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group said: “Moorland managers are the guardians of the peat and keen to work with scientists to ensure this vital resource is looked after for the benefit of all.”

Notes:

  • A little over 3% of the earth’s land surface is covered in peat, but not all peatlands are the same.
  • Peat bogs contribute to the welfare of all living things by ‘locking up’ carbon that would otherwise increase the greenhouse effect
  • Peat is an organic material that forms in the waterlogged, sterile, acidic conditions of bogs and fens. These conditions favour the growth of mosses, especially sphagnum. As plants die, they do not decompose. Instead, the organic matter is laid down, and slowly accumulates as peat because of the lack of oxygen in the bog

Credit: GWCT http://www.gwct.org.uk/

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is the leading UK charity conducting scientific research to enhance the British countryside for public benefit. Read more.

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