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The cost of peatland restoration in Scotland

The Valuing Nature Programme’s Peatland Tipping Points project

Peatland restoration could make a considerable contribution in achieving national emission targets and is a vital part of Scotland’s strategy in moving towards net zero emissions. However, there is currently limited available information on the (monetary) costs and benefits of peatland restoration, which is important to inform project appraisals and policy development.

In this project, we characterized and analyzed peatland restoration activities and costs, using data collected as part of the grant application and reporting process for the Peatland Action Programme (PAP) in Scotland. The initial analysis suggests that median restoration cost per hectare (using data from reports) of actually incurred costs amounts to £955 and that restoration costs vary depending on the restoration activities implemented, as well as on the initial peatland condition.

Stage

Work in Progress

Purpose

Peatland restoration is increasingly perceived by policy and decision makers in the UK, across Europe and the world, as a relatively cost-effective way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Evidence and knowledge of the costs and benefits of restoration is therefore crucial in informing policy decisions aimed at mitigating climate change. In this context, this research aims to improve our knowledge of peatland restoration costs and factors affecting it, through the systematic collation of a database of restoration sites.

Information on the cost of peatland restoration is currently patchy and fragmented, and often based on limited data. Our work resulted in the creation of a database that we plan to continuously update as new information on costs related to the PAP becomes available. To the best of our knowledge, there is currently no comparable database available for the UK, and for peatlands - at least across regions with temperate climates.   

The database used information collected as part of the Peatland Action Programme, funded by Scottish Government and administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), between 2016 and 2019.  Data collection and analysis were performed with the support of researchers and analysts from the University of Leeds (Julia Martin-Ortega) and Scottish’s Natural Heritage (Mahboobeh Shirkhorshidi and Andrew McBride).

The database includes data from 90 unique projects covering 194 restoration sites in Scotland, of which data on 166 sites was considered suitable for further analysis of restoration costs. Our analysis sought to offer a more comprehensive study than was previously available.

Results

Peatland restoration can be undertaken using a range of techniques; see ‘A comparative analysis of the costs and merits of different restoration methods’, ‘Data from the Peatland Action Programme and their use for evaluations of ecosystem benefits’, and in the PAP project resources.

We found peatland restoration costs vary depending on the restoration activities implemented, as well as on the initial peatland condition. Our results indicate that restoration costs per hectare (based on the completed forms) average £1227. However, the calculated average costs are distorted by a small number of sites with a relatively high cost per hectare, therefore it is more informative to refer to the median cost, which is lower at £955. Project management costs (excluding support offered through Peatland Action and its officers) are estimated to account on average for 6% of total restoration costs, and in-kind contributions are valued at approximately 10% of total restoration costs.

Restoration costs are higher in the presence of forest-to-bog restoration activities. The restoration cost per hectare on sites that are actively eroding and involve removal of scrub and forestry were also found to be higher than for sites without these characteristics.    

For the purpose of this project, restoration activities were broadly categorized into the following five categories:

A) Ditch (grip) blocking;

B) Hag, gully and bare peat restoration;

C) Bunding;

D) Forest to bog restoration; and

E) Scrub removal.

In our analysis, we separately considered information from two types of forms completed by applicants and grantees: application forms and final reporting forms.

Restoration costs were estimated by area of peatland restored. Costs included on-site restoration costs (directly linked to the implementation of restoration activities, such as ditch blocking), project management costs and, if applicable, in-kind costs.  

Aside from costs, the database also includes information on the site’s characteristics (such as site use prior to restoration and potential site designations) and restoration activities proposed or undertaken. A descriptive analysis of the sites included in the database indicates that more than half of the restoration sites are either a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or National Nature Reserve (NNR). In addition, in terms of their current use, deer management (40%) and rough grazing (37%) are the most frequently mentioned uses, followed by biodiversity conservation (34% of sites).