SWIFT ACTION to restore Scotland's depleted peatlands could save society nearly £200million a year in the long run, according to new research.

A study, led by Scotland’s Rural College, has for the first time calculated the monetary costs of delaying restoration of a natural resource that plays a huge environmental role globally, including in reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

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Researchers investigated how improvements to peatlands which have suffered from drainage, erosion or burning, would be beneficial to society.

In Scotland, 20% of the land is covered in peatland and researchers concluded that restoration would provide £191m annually of societal benefits for the country – including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, increased water quality and improved wildlife habitat – if it took place by 2027 rather than between 2039-2050. According to their estimations this would be the equivalent of an average of £77.76 per household per year in Scotland. If restoration work took place between 2028–2038, benefits would be reduced, but would still be significant, at £116m.

Peatlands, which cover 3% of the Earth’s surface, store a third of the world’s soil carbon as well providing multiple benefits such as clean water and support for wildlife. However, it is thought that by as early as 2050, most carbon currently stored in UK peatlands will be at risk of loss, and that this risk is aggravated considerably by 2080.

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Lead author Dr Klaus Glenk, who leads the Sustainable Ecosystems Team at SRUC, said: "Delaying restoration action may not only result in further ecosystem degradation, but also negatively impact on ecosystem resilience.

“Peatlands with a healthy cover of peat moss are expected to be less susceptible to future climate change. This also implies that substantial additional greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate global warming in the long term might be avoided by restoring peatlands earlier rather than later," he continued.

“Our study indicates that the enhanced robustness of peatlands against future climate change is an important factor for greater benefits of early, rather than delayed, restoration action. It also shows that the annual allocation of investments within the multi-annual programme has significant consequences for overall benefits.”

The study, which was carried out by SRUC in partnership with researchers at the University of Leeds, University of Exeter, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in Germany, and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), is published in Global Environmental Change.