A new campaign encouraging estate owners and gamekeepers to step up their efforts to help Scotland meet its climate-change targets has been launched by rural communities.

The Precious Places drive aims to highlight the environmental, social and economic benefits delivered all year round by moorland managers. Grouse moors act as huge carbon stores and pro-active management practices help support active peat bogs rich in wildlife.

More than 20 per cent of Scotland is covered in peatland, areas of moor that could hold the key to halting climate change due to their unmatched ability
to lock greenhouse gases deep within the soil.

The carbon-storing properties of healthy and well-managed peatlands are renowned, as well as being important wildlife habitat, being home to rare birds, mammals and plant species. 

Peat marshes also help improve water quality and play a vital part in reducing flood risk.

Estates across the Tomatin, Speyside, Grampian, Loch Ness and Southern Upland areas have been leading the charge to repair degraded peatlands to enhance their carbon storage capacity. 

Estates undertaking peatland restoration projects include The Hopes Estate in the Lammermuir Hills, Alvie and Pitmain on Speyside. There has also been extensive peatland restoration completed on Garrogie and Corriegarth estates near Inverness.

Projects have also taken place on Farr and Glenmazeran in the Monadhliath Mountains. Estates that are part of the Grampian Moorland Group that have undertaken peatland restoration projects include Invercauld and Candacraig, as well as Mar Lodge and Glenfeshie in the Cairngorms.

Spanning 2,200 hectares, most of which is open hill and moorland, The Hopes has been heavily involved in intensive peatland restoration activity, working with the Scottish Government through the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Peatland Action Fund. 

The project was to restore the peatland on two previously unmanaged sites, covering an estimated 50 hectares.

This has enabled the regeneration of large areas of blanket bog, rich in the main peat-forming species, sphagnum moss.

This peatland restoration will ultimately allow for higher levels of carbon capture. Robbie Douglas Miller, owner of The Hopes, said: “We wholeheartedly support the Precious Places campaign, as moors play a crucial role in all our lives by providing multiple benefits for people and nature. When healthy, they lock in carbon to help combat climate-change, support biodiversity and safeguard rural jobs.

“I see estate owners, managers and gamekeepers as custodians of that space. We are committed to carrying out vital conservation work across Scotland’s moorlands by implementing climate change measures to help preserve important moorland habitats and save our beautiful Scottish landscape for generations to come – this will only be achieved by pro-active management.”

Lianne MacLennan, coordinator of the Grampian Moorland Group, said: “Scotland’s grouse moors are special and precious. Degraded peatland was mapped in the Cairngorms National Park and two sites at Invercauld were estimated to be emitting a total of 2,134 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. 

“Once the peatland restoration work is complete it will make a huge contribution to the overall level of carbon capture across Scotland’s grouse moors.”

Out of Scotland’s 1.9 million hectares of peatland about 270,000 hectares show evidence of erosion. 

The restoration of 50,000 hectares of degraded peatland areas by 2020 is one of the objectives of the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan is hoping to achieve.

Dee Ward, owner of Rottal Estate in Angus, has completed a tree planting project and is due to undertake a major peatland restoration project in spring 2020. 

He said: “We have planted over 200 acres here at Rottal Estate, totalling 122,000 trees, mainly native broadleaves and Scots pine. By doing this we hope to deliver carbon capture, flood mitigation, and biodiversity.

“We work closely with the RSPB and we strive to maintain a balance so that we have specific habitats for waders, moorland for black and red grouse, and woodland areas. 

“Next year there will also be a major peatland restoration project here, covering about 40 hectares.”

Since 2012, over 19,000 hectares of degraded peatland have been put on the road to recovery with funding provided by the Scottish Government through the Scottish Natural Heritage Peatland Action Fund.