The Scottish Government has published its budget for 2020/21 in which it provides £20 million for peatland restoration and a commitment to invest £250 million over the next ten years. This has been agreed as part of the Scottish Governments commitment to nature-based solutions to the climate crisis and described as “an absolute game changer for CO2 emissions reductions, biodiversity and the rural economy” by Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.
This increase on funding from last year is a welcome move and the longer-term commitment to funding will help those planning large scale peatland projects over several years. It also gives assurance to the restoration contractors and businesses who have to organise staff and other resources that it is worth investing in this important work.
£20 million a year can secure on average 20,000ha of peatland restoration and there has been great progress with over 90,000ha already under restoration management in Scotland but more is needed if we are to urgently tackle the huge extent of peatland damage across the country – damaged UK peatlands emit an estimated 23 Mt CO2e per year which is equal to half the emissions from agriculture and around 4.5% of UK total emissions. The private business sector has a key role in complimenting government funding through investing in peatland projects to help us reach our peatland restoration goals in time. Market mechanisms may be used to pay for the carbon benefits in the long term with the increased use of blended finance through mechanisms such as the Peatland Code. The clear funding commitment from the Scottish Government helps private businesses to see that this is an important and legitimate climate action and sets a positive message that could help stimulate further effort among other peatland nations, particularly as Scotland will be hosting the next global climate change talks at COP26 in Glasgow in 2020.
The UK peatland strategy also requires a wider financial commitment beyond capital funds for repairing peatlands to ensure that already healthy and recovering peatlands and their carbon stores are secured for future. Delivering peatland projects requires an infrastructure of trained staff and partnerships with coordinating bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage Peatland Action.
There is also a need to look at financing for those who manage our peatlands sustainably. The UK Committee on Climate Change Report on Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero recommends public money being used to fund the carbon and non-carbon benefits of peatland restoration. Land managers often require ongoing funding support to carry out basic maintenance management and to demonstrate some value in having healthy peatlands. Agriculture funding is moving towards recognising that land managers, as custodians of our natural environment, should receive public subsidies in return for delivering public goods such as the carbon, biodiversity and water benefits that peatlands provide. It is important that a clear signal is given to land managers of this ongoing commitment to sustainable management of our peatlands as our agriculture subsidy system evolves.
The budget announcement also gave clear ambition for other vital natural carbon measures. The commitment to deliver 12,000ha of new tree planting along with peatland restoration increases action across our two greatest carbon stores. Delivering these natural climate change solutions in tandem, in different locations, maximises the biodiversity and carbon benefits of both forestry and peatlands without compromising both by planting on peat.
As we make these much-needed investments in peatland restoration it is important that we also avoid further damage from land management and built development activity. The UK Committee on Climate Change calls for a ban on damaging practices such as rotational burning on peatland (by 2020), peat extraction and the sale of peat and peat imports (by 2023).
“Investing in the conservation and restoration of our peatlands is not only cost effective but brings new economic opportunities often in rural areas that most need it, with employment opportunities in the business of restoring peatlands and in the new industries such as those developing products to replace peat use in horticulture.” Clifton Bain, Director of IUCN UK Peatland Programme
Image above: Dubh lochans and blanket bog at The Flows National Nature Reserve near Forsinard, Caithness.© Lorne Gill, Scottish Natural Heritage, 2020 VISION