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Peatland restoration work resumes in Sutherland

By Alan Hendry

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Donald Shanks in the specially adapted excavator, with Duncan Wemyss standing in front of the tracks.
Donald Shanks in the specially adapted excavator, with Duncan Wemyss standing in front of the tracks.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) has resumed its peatland restoration work at Meall an Lochain in north-west Sutherland.

Operations at the 30-hectare site in Benmore forest are being conducted in line with the Forestry Sector Restart and Resilience Plan, which sets out the Scottish Government’s approach to restarting forestry and outdoor environmental management.

FLS has prioritised activities such as wildlife management, top-up spraying and ground preparation as its work programmes get under way again with Covid-19 safe-working practices such as physical distancing and the provision of hand-washing facilities.

Peatland restoration is recognised as a significant climate emergency mitigation.

Tim Cockerill, FLS’s north region peatland restoration forester, said: “Our contractors, Duncan Wemyss and Donald Shanks, have been great in adapting their work practices so efficiently and, thanks to their diligence, work at Benmore in Sutherland has resumed.

“The site was cleared of trees earlier this year, and so we’re now doing ground-smoothing work. This will reverse the drainage measures put in place at the time the tree crop was established, raise the water table and so create conditions similar to those of an unaltered bog.”

The technique involves a specially adapted excavator, fitted with extended and widened tracks, that allows it to cross the wet ground without causing damage. Using a toothed bucket, tree stumps and any new growth are flipped and turned into an adjacent plough furrow.

The furrows are then cross-tracked by the excavator to level any remaining ridges, flattening the whole surface.

Mr Cockerill added: “This whole process helps to create a flatter, more natural peatland, which helps reduce carbon emissions and enables peat-forming vegetation to recolonise the site.

“It’s a big site and, although it was planted up for more than 30 years, we will soon create the conditions to restore a valuable habitat, and start to capture carbon in about 10 years’ time.“

The work at Benmore is part of a country-wide programme of peatland restoration work. Over the course of 2019/20, FLS invested over £1.6 million, starting restoration on 914ha of peatland. This was supported by Peatland Action.

Peatland Action is funded by the Scottish Government and administered by Scottish Natural Heritage.

FLS manages forests and land owned by Scottish ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry.

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