The main characteristic of the peatlands is their soil: peat. This soil is found over much of the National Park, particularly on the higher ground where blanket bogs form.
Peat soil forms in very wet conditions ideal for Sphagnum mosses. These mosses are so absorbent that they are even used for making environmentally-friendly nappies!
The waterlogged conditions Sphagnum mosses survive mean that dead plants matter only partially decomposes and as a result over many years layer upon layer of organic matter builds up into the thick soft dark brown peat.
Peat can be several metres deep. A rough “rule of thumb” estimates that peat grows about 1mm per year or 1cm every 10 years…
… so peat a metre deep may have taken a thousand years to form!
Because peat is so slow growing it is very fragile to erosion. If the vegetation is severely damaged by too much grazing, trampling or by fire the peat soils may be exposed to the wind and rain. This makes them vulnerable to erosion. Drainage of peatlands was practiced in the past in an attempt to ‘improve’ the land for agriculture, forestry and grouse moor management. Today we know better; draining peat is one of the most damaging things leading to erosion and carbon loss.
Caring for our peatlands means protecting wildlife and habitats and helping to store more carbon. There have been a number of very successful projects to restore damaged peatlands in the National Park. There are moves to try and increase the benefits to land managers who look after their peatlands, because by doing so they are looking after us all.
Peatland Action is a new project, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to restore this damaged habitat.
As part of the Scottish Government’s Green Stimulus Package it is directly contributing to the Government’s targets on climate change mitigation.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) has a Peatland Restoration Officer to help deliver Peatland Action and restore damaged peat habitats across the National Park. Supported by SNH, the project officer is able to provide advice and guidance on peatland restoration as well as assist in putting together applications for Peatland Action grants.