In north east Scotland, a vast expanse of almost uninterrupted blanket bog stretches over about 4,000 sq km of Caithness and Sutherland.
Following OGN's article last month - What's Brown and Soggy and Fights Climate Change? - where we noted that protecting intact peatlands and restoring degraded ones are crucial steps if the world is to succeed in its efforts to hold back climate change, describing it as the 'low hanging fruit', it's wonderful news to learn that hopes are rising that this area in Scotland, known as Flow Country - and the world’s largest carbon store - could become the first peatland to win World Heritage status.
The UK government is shortly expected to confirm that it will ask UNESCO to add the Flow Country to an exclusive list that includes the Great Barrier Reef and the Taj Mahal. Experts say that the Flow Country’s candidacy could have a profound impact on the global fight to combat climate change.
Senior conservation scientists argue it would make the region a showcase for peatland management, including repairing areas damaged by human intervention worldwide, and confirm peat bogs as essential components in future efforts to arrest climate change - as peatlands are among the planet's greatest carbon stores. Today, sadly, they are under sustained threat from climate change and release carbon as they dry out. The problem is exacerbated by by agriculture, commercial forestry and industrial expansion. Clearly, this all needs reversing in favour of peatlands everywhere.
Amazingly, ecologists estimate that while peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of the carbon stored on land. They calculate the Flow Country’s peatlands, which are up to 15 metres deep after more than 10,000 years of plant deposition and expansion, alone hold 400m tonnes of carbon. That's roughly twice the total carbon content of all the woodlands and forest in the UK.
Professor Thompson, NatureScot’s principal science adviser and an architect of the world heritage site bid, said the Flow Country is "the single largest peat deposit in the world and therefore it’s the single largest carbon repository in the world; it’s the world’s largest in terms of one block, one expanse of blanket bog.”
“If they are intact and functioning well, they are absolute life savers. But where they are degraded and pouring out carbon, an absolute liability,” Thompson said. “It’s so vital to restore them, to preserve our carbon balance.”
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