Advances in machinery and innovation in working practices have proved pivotal in restoring a former commercial forestry site in South Lanarkshire to its natural peatland habitat.

Nearly a decade after work was first started restoring Carnwath Moss, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and its contractors have harnessed modern technology to access and navigate exceptionally boggy ground to finish the job.   

The site was planted with lodgepole pine in 1968, and in 2014 many of the trees were removed through a combination of conventional harvesting methods and mulching. However, 14 hectares had to be left at the time due to the extremely wet ground.

In the 10 years since the initial work there has been some recovery with the water table rising, but by leaving some of the trees still standing along with previous modifications like furrows and ridges from the planting process, the peatland habitat has not been able to fully re-establish itself.   

FLS Peatland Restoration Forester Neil McLauchlan said: “The restoration of this site has proved to be incredibly challenging but with more suitable machinery we can now safely access extremely wet areas of land – an essential part of doing peatland restoration work.

“Our contractor has deployed a brand new, specially modified excavator to work alongside an existing fleet. The modifications include the fabrication and fitting of a custom undercarriage to allow for extra-widespread tracks that can balance the machine’s weight and reduce the ground pressure for working on the boggy ground.

“The current plan is to mulch the remaining original trees before using a technique developed by FLS called ‘stump-flipping and ground-smoothing’ on the rest of the area where regeneration has been taking place since the original felling. Any remaining tree stumps and ridges will be pushed into lower furrows to create level ground similar to that found on unmodified peatlands.”

Along with the battle to access the boggy site, FLS teams have worked to protect vulnerable wildlife and neighbouring high-value conservation sites.

Mr McLauchlan explained: “Some issues that were addressed in the planning stages were how and when to operate around the discovery of an unusual mineral knoll in the middle of the site that has an active badger sett in it.

“Our environment team come out and surveyed the sett on several occasions and marked out the entrance holes. A buffer zone was put in place leaving a small area of trees standing for the duration of the project. These will be felled by hand later so as not to disturb the badgers.

“The site is also surrounded by a Site of Special Scientific Interest, meaning buffer zones were established at the boundaries to ensure there was no negative impacts to the neighbouring land.”

The restoration work at Carnwath Moss makes up part of the 10,000 hectares of peatland that Forestry and Land Scotland has set – on land it manages – on the road to recovery through ‘re-wetting’ sites.

When healthy, peatlands can help secure carbon stores, by changing them from sources of carbon-to-carbon sinks while also supporting nature and reducing flood and fire risk.