Protecting and enhancing soil health - particularly in peatlands given that they store nearly 50% of all Scotland’s soil carbon - is key to reaching Scotland’s net zero targets by 2045. Peatland health, or condition, is dependent on physical, hydrological, and ecological factors that influence each other in various self-regulating feedbacks to produce resilience to climate changes over millennial timescales.
Much of Scotland’s peatland area has been damaged to such a degree that this self-regulation no longer functions. In net terms, the degraded peatlands lose so much carbon that they completely offset the entire forest carbon sink in Scotland as well as having lost other vital ecosystem functions, such as water filtration and storage. The realisation of the scale of this issue has led to the inclusion of peatland restoration targets (250,000 hectares restored by 2030). As the majority of Scotland’s approximately 2.4 million hectares of peat is degraded, targeting the most cost-effective sites for restoration is necessary. Wider than just restoration issues, we also still do not have clear estimates of how degraded our peatlands are or how to cost-effectively monitor the overall health or condition of our 2.4 million hectares of peatland.
- What are the roles and contributions of Scotland’s soils in delivering key ecosystem services such as net greenhouse gas reductions, food production, biodiversity, flood regulation, water availability and water quality?
- How do we apply this knowledge to effectively target resources and interventions to maximize soil protection whilst ensuring soils can continue to deliver key ecosystem services including co-benefits?
- What methods would be most effective to robustly estimate the monetary/non-monetary value of mineral, organic-rich and peat soils to Scotland’s economy? How can these estimates best be integrated into Scotland’s Natural Capital and ecosystem service accounts?
If the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan has a 250,000-hectares restoration target by 2030 is to be realised, targeting the most cost-effective sites for restoration is necessary. This project provides spatially explicit information about where and when restoration should be considered, and how much benefit could be achieved at each restoration site and across all of Scotland to achieve net zero by 2045.
Monitoring and assessing peatland restoration efforts
We are contributing to the development of a Scottish Soil Monitoring Framework by developing peatland-specific indicators to assess the efficacy of peatland restoration efforts, outcomes of wider peatland conservation measures, and the state and trajectory of degraded and near natural peatlands in the light of climatic stress and competing land uses. These indicators also consider the spatial distribution of peat soils, their sometimes unique (e.g., extraction) historic management and that cover all soil types. We are testing whether current emission factors as used in the UK greenhouse gas Inventory appropriately represent the emissions from the generally climatically wetter and cooler Scottish peatlands.
We are finding an optimal network of monitoring sites under a future Peatland Monitoring Framework, covering the range of land uses and management scenarios on peatland and the breadth of climatic gradients. We are maximising the alignment of longer-term research efforts on peatland's overall condition, including their potential to contribute to net greenhouse gas reductions, regulation of water quality and flood risk mitigation, biodiversity, and (non)monetary values. These activities are complemented by the Integrated socio-environmental modelling of policy scenarios for Scotland project and the Healthy Soils project in relation to developing a soils monitoring network and framework; and link to the Emerging Water Futures project which is developing a water quality method to differentiate outcomes of peatland restoration.
Assessing the temporal behaviour of Scottish peatlands
Current reporting mechanisms that rely on broad category land cover data sources to calculate the peatland contribution of baseline and avoided emissions to the Scottish national emissions total are a poor representation of true emissions. We are further developing indicators for peatland condition, assessing the outcomes of contrasting restoration management in the short term, and evaluating vulnerability to climate and land use and management change, specifically future drought and fire risks. This involves exploring the use of satellite-derived indices that act as proxies for GHG emissions. Earth Observations allows generalisations and the upscaling of local measurements and results to wide areas. This activity directly links with the Climate change impacts on Natural Capital project and Habitat Management and Restoration project through the exchange of data products on drought and fire risks; the Supporting Scotland's Land Use Transformations project modelling land management activities and changes on peat and peatland functionality. Our team are also exploring artificial intelligence to automate the process of monitoring peatland conditions. These indicators are informing modelling and spatial mapping of current and future risks to Scottish peatland carbon stocks. Our analysis is informing effective targeting of resources and interventions for peatland restoration.
Identifying the gaps in peatland valuation
The valuation of peat is patchy, and largely dominated by carbon storage values, yet peat provides vital biodiversity, water regulation, and landscape and cultural services. By collating existing values and mapping to ecosystem services provided by peatlands, we can link the currently disparate monetary and non-monetary values to identify the largest gaps in our understanding of peat values.
We are producing evidence maps of methods used to estimate the monetary and non-monetary value of peat soils, providing missing high-priority values, and developing a framework to integrate these estimates into Scotland’s Natural Capital and ecosystem service accounts. We are investigating the value positions of crofters and crofting communities with peatlands and restoration, motivations, and barriers to engage in restoration, and revealing the importance that peatland management plays as part of the fabric and identity of crofters. We are advancing the understanding of the cost-effectiveness of peatland restoration by linking updated information on greenhouse gas emissions following restoration with data on restoration cost. The new valuation is being integrated into existing peatland values by developing a Peatland Valuation Framework. This framework is being linked to Scotland’s Natural Capital Accounts and Natural Capital Assets Index and Scotland’s ecosystem services accounts. We also research the cost-effectiveness of peatland restoration using multiple data sources and establish marginal abatement cost curves for peatland management in Scotland.
More robust Peatland Code
We are aiding in the production of a more robust Peatland Code by determining if carbon losses due to erosion and drainage are appropriately accounted for in the code, and by producing more robust data for the risk buffer used within the code. New data is being collected and mapped to identify spatial locations that most likely would benefit from early restoration efforts. Together this forms an expert assessment of particulate organic carbon losses from active erosion that is being combined with an assessment of emissions due to drainage and erosion severity. We are also developing drought and fire risk elements through a combination of spatial modelling and expert assessment to strengthen recommendations for restoration sites where the risk of fire spreading to other areas of peatlands could be reduced.
Improving the reliability of carbon audit tools
We are improving the reliability of carbon audit tools to measure the benefits of improved peatland management, inclusive of future climate sensitivity. We develop a meta-modelling approach that can feed better, spatially disaggregated information on peatland greenhouse gas emissions into future discussions around the next iteration of the Land Use Strategy and informing the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
Novel Crops: To address opportunities for producing alternative protein and carbohydrate crops in Scottish agriculture for fish and crustacean feed, bioenergy, bio-refining, animal feed and human consumption, and to develop design criteria for integrating suitable alternative legume and non-legume crops as sole and intercrops within rotations whilst also accounting for...
- Crop Improvement
Plant, Soil, Water Interactions: To identify the interactions between plants and soils that can be exploited to achieve food security and sustainable production of sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Crop yield and quality, biodiversity, and soil health are largely determined by the interactions between plant roots and the soil. The focus is on understanding, and modelling,...
- Crop Improvement