The Flow Country in the far north of Scotland covers a wide area of peatland
Restoring damaged peatlands in Scotland will help combat climate change, a conservation body has said.
The Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said the bogs in Scotland store three billion tonnes of harmful gases.
It said 80% of the UK’s peatland was in Scotland and has launched a programme in Edinburgh to promote the restoration of drained areas.
One of the world’s largest peat bogs is the Flow Country in the far north.
The IUCN said such areas were a huge store of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Peatlands release methane, another greenhouse gas, but the union said it would be more beneficial to the environment to preserve sites.
BBC Radio 5 LiveIn the past, thousands of hectares of peatland have been damaged by drainage and those dried-up areas are reckoned to release the equivalent of 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
That is roughly the same as the emissions from a million households.
Around four fifths of the UK’s peatland is in Scotland, much of it in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland in the far north.
They can be up to 12m deep and are formed by layers of moss laid down over thousands of years and preserved in water.
In the past, peat bogs have been seen primarily as a source of biodiversity.
Now their value as a natural means of carbon retention is starting to be appreciated. The UK Government set a target five years ago of restoring 800,000 hectares by 2015.
The IUCN reckons that might cost around £80m.
But if it prevented the release of 2.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, it would pay for itself within two years.
Clifton Bain, director of the IUCN Peatland Programme, said restoration projects would help Scotland meet climate change targets.
He said: “Damaged peatlands are a major source of emissions, both here in Scotland and world wide.
“Proposed changes to international rules on carbon accounting will allow Scotland to get full credit for its peatland restoration work, including the massive conservation efforts in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland, one of the worlds largest blanket bogs.”
The Scottish government has welcomed the programme’s launch.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Peatlands are a vitally important part of our soils resource and landscapes and we have a duty to protect these precious habitats.
“Past damage to peatlands has been a costly problem but we now have some world-leading examples of restoration.”
Last week, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) reported that soils in Scotland store more than 3,000 megatonnes of carbon, posing a potential threat to the environment.
The government agency produced a strategy aiming to protect areas such as peatlands and reduce the chances of “carbon leakage”.
SNH has offered to advise councils on lowering the risk at development sites.
It will also produce guidance on how to minimise soil disturbance during wind farm construction.
peat bog restoration = wild land restoration