One of the biggest hurdles to implementing peatland restoration in Shetland has been getting out to the sites. Occasionally there are “peat roads”, rough tracks traditionally used to bring peats home from the hill, but generally the machines and fuel have to be taken some distance out across degraded blanket bog owned or managed by other crofters. And, as everyone familiar with peatlands will be aware, blanket bog quickly turns to a black peaty “mush” when repeatedly driven over, even when using tracked vehicles.
Faced with this issue for a Peatland Action funded peatland restoration project near Girlsta in the Shetland Central Mainland one local contractor, Shetland Peatland Restoration Services (SPRS), has come up with an innovative solution that makes use of recycled materials from the local aquaculture industry. Salmon farm cage frames are constructed from a huge amount of sturdy black plastic pipe of various diameters and thickness. At the end of the lifetime of a cage this material ends up at the dump. SPRS have been using the pipes to construct mats which when laid out across the bog effectively form a sturdy floating “road”. The mats are light enough to be transported using a tracked quad and can be manoeuvred into place manually.
We have been really pleased with how well a trial of the mats last winter on some sections of the access route has worked to protect the underlying vegetation. The route was used daily for 3 months to take out fuel to the 4 machines on site. When the mats were re-lifted the bog vegetation underneath was “rippled” but still intact whereas unprotected sections required extensive repair work to the damaged ground. The mats themselves sustained very little damage, were fit for re-use and could be rolled up for storage.
Further Peatland Action funding was awarded to complete work on the site this winter. The Contractors spent several days laying the mats out over the entire route (about 800m) before any work started on site. Although this has made for a slow start to work on site we are confident that this effort will be more than made up for by the reduction in damage to the bog vegetation over the course of the project.
Image: Shetland Peatland Restoration © Sue White, Peatland Action Project Officer, Shetland Amenity Trust