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'For Peat’s Sake' – Funding secured for peatland restoration project in Caithness and north Sutherland


By David G Scott

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Funding has been awarded to help businesses in Caithness and north Sutherland diversify from traditional skills to green skills and aid peatland restoration.

NatureScot, UHI North, West and Hebrides and Focus North collaborated on a bid to the Highland Council’s Green Skills Fund. The bid was supported by local companies interested in undertaking peatland restoration training.

The project, titled ‘For Peat’s Sake’, will provide on-site peatland restoration training at the Flow Country in north Highland.

Flow Country in Westerdale area of Caithness. Picture: DGS
Flow Country in Westerdale area of Caithness. Picture: DGS

Peatland restoration remains a major growth sector locally and is hugely important to wider conservation efforts across the country. In 2020, the Scottish Government set a new target of 250,000Ha of degraded peatland to be restored by 2030, with a significant portion of this taking place in the Highlands.

“A lot of businesses in our area can face obstacles when securing work and entering the emerging sector of peatland restoration due to a lack of skills and specific experience in this field,” said Focus North programme manager, Peter Faccenda.

Peter Faccenda, Focus North programme manager.
Peter Faccenda, Focus North programme manager.

“This project will support the development of skills and provide the knowledge required to deliver effective restoration work, through the delivery of a 'Principles and Practices of Peatland Restoration' week-long CPD course and two days on-site training.”

Caithness Engineering Services (CAS) Ltd is one of the partners in the consortium led by NatureScot on the bid.

CAS director Graham Robertson said: "Access to this training will enhance our capabilities, paving the way for business growth and a future of diverse employment opportunities.

"When combining traditional engineering practices known across our region with these essential new skills, we will now be able to welcome new perspectives and fresh talent.

"This exciting opportunity will ensure our business evolves and becomes more resilient."

Peatland training site. Picture supplied
Peatland training site. Picture supplied

The one-week introduction to peatland restoration, due to begin in spring 2024, will provide up to 15 trainees with an extensive overview of all aspects involved in restoration work.

Later in the year, trainees will undertake a two-day practical course onsite at RSPB Forsinard, which forms part of the wider Flow Country (c. 200,000ha) that is currently under consideration to become a World Heritage Site. Two extra modules, which are optional will involve emergency first aid and ATV operation training. Each of the courses is free and expenses will be covered.

Project coordination will ensure factors such as geographic isolation, access needs, and financial considerations are addressed as much as possible with a daily stipend, transport and accommodation being provided to all course participants.

Flow Country close to Lybster in Caithness. Picture: DGS
Flow Country close to Lybster in Caithness. Picture: DGS

Peter Faccenda, added: “We are really pleased with this outcome. The training will not only enable us to build capacity across participant businesses but will also have the added long-term benefit of establishing a focal point for training on peatland restoration in the north Highlands.”

The training course will initially run as a pilot with a formal evaluation taking place to understand any changes and additions required to ensure the training is effective.

The project will also mark the beginning of a comprehensive skills action plan being developed by Focus North.

From left, Nicky Marr, Trudy Morris, Peter Faccenda and Simon Middlemas at a Focus North conference in Thurso last year. Picture: DGS
From left, Nicky Marr, Trudy Morris, Peter Faccenda and Simon Middlemas at a Focus North conference in Thurso last year. Picture: DGS

A study commissioned by the Flow Country Partnership and North Highland Initiative into the economic impact and business potential of peatland restoration has revealed the economic impact could reach £400 million for the local area over 18 years.

Stretching across Caithness and Sutherland, an estimated 45 percent (180,000ha) of peatland area is said to be degraded and requires restoration. The reports estimates that the regeneration could lead to the employment of 241 people over 18 years.


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