Peatlands restoration target missed for fifth year running

The Scottish Government has admitted its target to restore peatlands has been missed for the fifth year running.

In 2018, ministers committed to restoring 20,000 hectares of peatlands each year, as part of its climate change plan.

However, in its most recent update on the plan, the Scottish Government acknowledged that just 7000 hectares of peatlands had been restored in 2022-23 – barely over a third of its target.

Conservationists have expressed disappointment over the lack of progress in peatland restoration.

The Scottish Government said new measures have been introduced to improve performance.

Peat plays an important role in combating climate change as it stores large amounts of carbon. 

However, when peat bogs are damaged or ‘degraded,’ they can become emitters of carbon dioxide, which contributes to the heating of the planet.

The Scottish Government described restoring the 80 per cent of Scotlands’ peatlands currently degraded as “both a challenge and an opportunity,”. 

Peatland restoration is complex, but it is also urgent if we are to meet net zero targets and restore the biodiversity that depends on healthy peatlands.

Alistair Whyte, Plantlife Scotland

In 2020, ministers announced a £250m funding package to support the restoration of 250,000 hectares by 2030.

However, its annual target for restoring 20,000 hectares each year has never been met in the five years since it was set.

In this year’s annual climate change plan update, published in May, the government admitted that “it is clear that we are off track against the relevant target indicator of 20,000 hectares per year.”

A number of reasons for this shortfall were cited, including a lack of capacity among the contractors needed to carry out restoration work, delays in planning processes, and increased costs in supply chains. 

The government also stated that “limited demand for restoration from landowners and managers” was a problem. 

Alistair Whyte, head of environmental charity Plantlife Scotland said: “It is extremely disappointing that, once again, peatland restoration targets have been missed. Peatland restoration is complex, but it is also urgent if we are to meet net zero targets and restore the biodiversity that depends on healthy peatlands.

He added: “Stronger leadership from the Scottish Government is urgently required to get the process back on track.”

Soil scientist Dr Janet Moxley, who formerly worked at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “It is disappointing to learn that once again Scotland has failed to meet its targets for peatland restoration. This is not just a marginal failure: the area of peatland restored is less than half of the target. 

We are now past the point where slow progress can be blamed on Covid.

Dr Janet Moxley, soil scientist

She added: “We are now past the point where slow progress can be blamed on Covid. The Scottish Government needs to set out a clear strategy showing how it intends to get action on peatland restoration back on track.”

This is not the first time that the government has been criticised over its record on peat restoration. 

In December last year, the Climate Change Committee, a body set up to advise and report on the UK and devolved governments’ progress in cutting emissions, warned that “Scotland’s targets for peatland restoration are not ambitious enough and are not being met.” 

Pointing out that the country’s degraded peatlands “contribute significantly to land use emissions,” the committee said that If ambition is not increased and delivery barriers, such as skills shortages and contractor availability, are not overcome, emissions in the land use sector will be well above the necessary contribution to Scotland’s 2030 target.”

The government also previously faced criticism for overestimating the amount of peatlands restored. This year, the climate change update notes that the 7000 hectare figure for 2022-23 is an estimate which is subject to change, with final data being available in “early summer”.

A spokesperson for Scottish Government agency NatureScot said it supported 50 peatland restoration projects in 2022/23 which are “helping to tackle the climate and nature emergencies”.

They added: “While NatureScot’s delivery represents a 25 per cent increase from last year, the overall rate of delivery is still below that required to meet the government’s ambitious target of 250,000 ha by 2030. This is because of the challenges of ramping up the workforce and supply chain. However, we have put in place a range of measures to accelerate the level of delivery in 2023/24 and beyond.”

The new measures include new promotional materials to inform land managers of the benefits of restoration, training courses to upskill contractors, incentives to design large scale projects, and an increased number of “Peatland Action staff” to support land managers through the restoration process.

Main image: iStock and geogif

This story was updated at 07.44 on 29 June 2023 to say that Janet Moxley no longer works at Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

1 comment
  1. “admitted” is not the right wording here, unless it has previously been denied? I think you mean “reported”

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