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LIFE Peatlands Project
Harrier

Restoring Active Blanket Peat Bog of European Importance in the North of Scotland

Project Summary and Results

Historical Context

For centuries, the peatlands remained largely intact thanks to generations of traditional land management. In the 1920s, however, some planting of non-native conifer trees started. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, a network of hill drains were dug to improve the bog for agricultural purposes. In the 1970s, the peatlands experienced landscape scale changes as new technology allowed areas of deeper peat to be planted. Particularly on the wetter areas, these activities caused a direct loss of habitat as well as damage to adjacent areas. However, during the 1980s, the international importance of the peatlands became increasingly clear. Since then, the challenge has been to restore some of the damaged areas and to create a more appropriate balance between birds, bogs and forest.

Background

A high proportion of the active blanket bog in the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC is in excellent condition. However, parts of the SAC are being seriously damaged because of past activities (afforestation, drainage) and to a lesser extent by ongoing management practices (e.g. grazing, burning). The greatest threats to the SAC are from forestry plantations which lie outside, but adjacent to the SAC boundary, and the extensive network of drains on the SAC. Action was urgently required if damage to the SAC caused by afforestation and drainage was to be halted. Erosion deepens and widens drains over time, increasing the damage they cause. Ongoing management activities were damaging the surface vegetation. This eventually leads to the loss of flora, fauna and peat. Poor management of areas important for breeding and feeding birds was also reducing the conservation value of the SPA. The SAC and SPA were also threatened by the lack of a clear, agreed vision for their future.

This project came about following on from the successful LIFE-Nature project B4-3200/94/770 'Conservation of active blanket bogs in Scotland and Northern Ireland', in which many of the techniques for restoration management were trialled. Such was the success of this project The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forest Enterprise (FE), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Plantlife put together a successful follow-up application to the EU in 2000 for a project that would ultimately see the above threats addressed so that the future conservation status of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC/SPA will be secured.

Objectives of the Project

The overall project objective was to see the restoration of 18,300 ha of the highest priority areas in and around the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC/SPA together with the establishment of financial and procedural mechanisms for land use.

Overview of Project Management

The Royal Society fro the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was the lead partner (beneficiary) in this project with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forest Enterprise (FE), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Plantlife as partners. The project was run by a full time Project Manager who worked to a Steering Group consisting of partner representatives. The Project team consisted of Partner staff at office and site locations throughout the project area. Throughout the project, the Project Manager kept in close touch with all project staff as appropriate and maintained a watching brief on all actions as scheduled.

Results

List of Key Deliverables and Outputs

Action name

Action code

Output target

Output achieved

Completion date

Submitted to EU

Cost benefit analysis of land use and management options for the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands.

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

A1

1 report

1 report

Jul-02

Interim Report (Prog Report 2)

Assessment of the number and distribution of Annex I birds breeding on the Peatlands SPA owned / managed by RSPB and Plantlife

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

A2

1 report

1 report

May-03

Interim Report

Assessment of the condition of the peatlands cSAC owned by RSPB and Plantlife

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

A3

1 report

1 report

Jun-03

Interim Report

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to restoration of afforested peatland

PDF Document Icon  Click here to view Clach Geala ES
Word Document Icon  Click here to view Bhaird Caol ES

A4

Environmental Statements (as required)

2 Environmental Statements

Oct-02

Interim Report

Peatland survey of Forest Enterprise land adjacent to cSAC/SPA

A5

1 report

1 report

Mar-02

Progress Report 3

Audit of damage and threat to the entire Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands cSAC/SPA

A6

1 report

1 report

Jan-03

Interim Report

Production of a strategic plan for the sustainable management of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands cSAC/SPA

PDF Document Icon  Click here to view

A7

1 report

1 report

Aug-05

Progress Report 5

Revision of RSPB Forsinard Reserve Management Plan

A8

1 report

1 report

Apr-03

Progress Report 3

Prepare a management plan for Dorrery Estate and Dorrery Hill Farm

A9

Purchase of 2,275 ha of active blanket bog

B1

2,275 ha

2,275 ha

Mar-01

Progress Report 1

Purchase of 1,556 ha of afforested blanket bog

B2

1,556 ha

1,556 ha

Aug-04

Progress Reports 1 - 4

Block drains on RSPB Forsinard Reserve, RSPB Blar nam Faoileag Reserve, and Strathmore Estate (Man Ag with owner)

C1

12,644 ha

12,644 ha

Aug-05

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Block drains on areas of unplanted peatland proposed for purchase (Dorrery Estate and Dorrery Hill Farm)

C2

1,295 ha

1,295 ha

Sep-05

Progress Report 5

Block drains on Plantlife Munsary Reserve

C3

1,300 ha

1,300 ha

Oct-03

Progress Report 3

Remove commercial forestry from 1,556 ha of afforested land acquired through Action B2

C4

1,556 ha

1,556 ha

Dec-06

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Block drains over 1,556 ha of afforested peatland acquired through Action B2, after Action C4 has been completed

C5

1,556 ha

1,556 ha

Dec-06

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Removal and/or realignment of forestry fences on RSPB owned and/or newly purchased land where trees have been removed

C6

8.5 km

10.1 km

Nov-05

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Removal of trees from the edge of areas of unplanted peatland within forests managed by Forest Enterprise

C7

250 ha

199 ha

Feb-04

Progress Reports 1 - 3

Removal of trees from the outer edge of forest systems immediately adjacent to the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands cSAC

C8

250 ha

315 ha

Apr-05

Progress Reports 1 - 4

Block drains over 500 ha of afforested peatland after Actions C7 & C8 have been completed

C9

500 ha

514 ha

Jan-06

Progress Reports 4 & 5

Removal of trees from areas of privately owned forest immediately adjacent to the edge of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands cSAC/SPA

C10

100 ha

158 ha

Dec-06

Progress Report 5

Erect 800 m of stock-proof fence on the boundary of Munsary Reserve

C11

800 m

1,200 m

Jun-02

Interim Report

Remove old fence at Munsary

C12

520 m

520 m

Jun-02

Interim Report

Implement site-based prescriptions to restore peatlands using the Scottish Natural Heritage Peatland Audit

C13

300 ha

370 ha

Sep-06

Progress Reports 4 & 5

Predator control

D1

Ongoing

Ongoing

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Erection and maintenance of information boards and signs

E1

2 interp boards 4 info signs

2 interp boards 9 info signs

Mar-04

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Development and maintenance of a project website

E2

1 website

1 website

Jun-02

Interim Report

Attendance of project staff at meeetings

E3

n/a

n/a

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Production of a CD-ROM

E4

1 CD-ROM

1 CD-ROM

Oct-06

Final Report

Production of project headed notepaper

E5

Stock of letterheads

Stock of letterheads

Jul-01

Progress Report 1

Production of a project leaflet

E6

1 leaflet

1 leaflet

Feb-02

Progress Report 1

Dissemination of results of cost-benefit analysis to stakeholders in the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

E7

1 report (200) 2 seminars

Project Update (400) 2 seminars

Oct-02

Interim Report

Preparation of an annual newsletter

PDF Document Icon  Click here to view 2002 newsletter (.pdf format, approx. 820kb)
PDF Document Icon  Click here to view 2003 newsletter (.pdf format, approx. 890kb)
PDF Document Icon  Click here to view 2004 newsletter (.pdf format, approx. 1.2Mb)
PDF Document Icon  Click here to view 2005 newsletter (.pdf format, approx. 550kb)
PDF Document Icon  Click here to view 2006 newsletter (.pdf format, approx. 450kb)

E8

1 newsletter (annually)

5 newsletters (over 5 years)

Dec-06

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Preparation and circulation of media releases

E9

Ongoing

Ongoing

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Host two general project demonstration days in years 2, 3 and 4 of the project

E10

2 demo days (yrs 2, 3 & 4)

Several demo days (annually)

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

At the end of the project, review success of project in terms of habitat restoration and socio-economic benefit to people living and working in Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands cSAC/SPA

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E11

1 report

1 report

Feb-07

Final Report

Host a seminar at the end of the project to review project outputs

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E12

1 seminar

1 conference

Oct-06

Final Report

To demonstrate best peat cutting practice

E13

3 demo days (yrs 2, 3 & 4)

not required

n/a

Progress Report 3

To demonstrate best management practice (grazing, burning, sporting management and ATV use)

E14

2 demo days

Several demo days (annually)

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Promote best management practice of in-bye land

E15

1 leaflet

1 leaflet 2 workshops

Dec-04

Progress Report 4

Promote best management practice of recreational activity (walking and birdwatching) on the peatlands

E16

1 leaflet

1 leaflet

May-05

Progress Report 4

Increase local and national awareness and build the fundraising potential for RSPB members to support conservation of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

E17

1 local mailing 1 national mailing

1 local mailing 1 national mailing

Jul-03

Progress Reports 2 & 3

Planning, monitoring, reviewing and management of the overall project for partners

F1

Ongoing

Ongoing

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Provision of strategic management of the project through a Steering Group

F2

Ongoing

Ongoing

Ongoing

Progress Reports 1 - 5

Survey of public / stakeholder attitudes before and towards the end of the project

Word Document Icon  Click here to view 2002 survey
Word Document Icon  Click here to view 2006 survey

F3

2 reports

2 reports

Dec-06

Interim Report & Final Report

Record uptake of options offered to landowner / occupiers and landmanagers to implement site-based land management prescriptions on privately owned / managed peatland

F4

1 report

1 report

Dec-06

Final Report

Monitor effectiveness of habitat restoration works completed on RSPB land

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

F5

1 report

1 report

Dec-06

Final Report

Monitor habitat recovery on areas of privately owned peatland following implementation of site-based prescriptions

F6

1 report

not required

Dec-06

Final Report

Monitor effectiveness of habitat restoration works and peatland management practices on breeding bird numbers and productivity

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

F7

1 report

1 report

Dec-06

Final Report

Monitor predator abundance on peatland sites and along peatland / forest edge

Word Document Icon  Click here to view

F8

1 report

1 report

Dec-06

Final Report

Summary of Results by Action Codes

Preparatory work progressed well throughout the project. The Land Use Review (A1) was well disseminated and proved a useful reference document during the development of the Management Strategy (A7). The bird and habitat assessment surveys (A2 and A3 respectively) were much needed preparatory actions which will serve as essential baselines by which to measure the level of habitat and bird recoveries following the programme of work. Environmental Impact Assessments (A4) were carried out for all felling work, with the first two proposals requiring full Environmental Statements. Forest Enterprise's peatland survey (A5) proved an essential action to guide where to prioritise their tree felling work; while, similarly, SNH's Peatland Audit (A6) helped confirm where all current and future restoration activities should be focussed.

Land acquisition was a particularly successful output in this project. The required acquisition of 2 275 ha of active blanket bog (B1) at Dorrery was completed in the very first month of the project (Mar-01); while the required acquisition of 900 ha of afforested blanket bog (B2) was completed (971 ha in total) in Mar-03. In Jun-04, the project was given EU approval for an 'additional clause' to allow the further acquisition of 585 ha (at no extra cost to the original budget). This took the project's forestry acquisition output to a total of 1,556 ha - a 73% increase in the original target.

The focus of the project was very much habitat restoration and this was on a large scale. Tree felling work (and forest drainblocking) saw both RSPB and FE fell a total of 2,070 ha (C4, C5, C7, C8, C9); with FCS contributing a further 170 ha (C10) through their Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme. Hill drain blocking saw significant contributions from RSPB (C1, C2) with a total of 13,939 ha; Plantlife (C3) with 1,300 ha, and SNH (C13) with a further 370 ha through their Peatland Management Scheme. Fence removal/realignment was carried out by RSPB (C6) and Plantlife (C11, C12) with a total of 11,820 m.

The project had a long list of E Actions to deliver and did well to achieve this. Specific outputs included signage (E1), website (E2), annual newsletters (E8) and a range of leaflets/publications (E6, E7, E15, E16, E17). Regular media releases (E9) and ongoing demonstration activities formed a core part of the awareness raising work. The project was concluded with a high profile conference 'The Peatlands - A Brigher Future' (E12) with over 80 delegates.

Project management has gone well with regular steering group meetings (F2), reports delivered and the financial situation closely monitored. The monitoring programme of biological parameters has delivered vital information about the recovery of the blanket bog. This monitoring will be continued. Where the monitoring has indicated issues at a site, further investigation will be carried out and remedial actions will be identified.

Evaluation and Conclusions

This project has worked well because of the strength of the partnership and the sound project management structures established right from the start. It also benefited from a thoroughly prepared project application with a clearly defined rationale and a strategic approach. In terms of deliverables, the project has been very successful with significantly more habitat outputs than what was an already ambitious target at the outset. An important factor in this has been the innovation of contractors continually trying to improve restoration techniques as the trees grow bigger.

The project has consistently maintained a high profile - both at local and national level. Although some of this is down to the regular promotion of Forsinard Reserve through RSPB, much credit should also be given to the diligent work of project staff delivering the many E Actions through the project itself. One of the biggest indicators of the success of this work (at a local level) has been through the series of Attitudes and Awareness Studies (1996, 2002, 2006) which has shown significant changes in people's opinion and attitudes towards the support of conserving the peatlands.

Almost 6 years on from the start of this programme of work, there is clear evidence to show that the overall project objectives have either been delivered, or are on their way to being delivered. In terms of habitat restoration, 18,896 ha exceeds our target by almost 1,200 ha - and this at no extra cost to the project. In terms of the strategy, this was, in many ways, the biggest and most important output for this project. For the first time in the history of the Caithness and Sutherland peatlands, we have a document which describes a sustainable future for the area, a document which not only has the support and input of the full range of land use interests, but also the Scottish Executive. This document serves as another significant step forward to ensuring that the future conservation status of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC/SPA is secured.

There have been a number of direct and indirect benefits. The project has directly contributed to the restoration of almost 19,000 ha of blanket bog on, or impacting on, the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC/SPA. The socio-economic effects of this project have been significant with over 1.1 million of cash paid to around 25 contractors; 4 full-time quality jobs, assisted by contributions by another 46 other staff - most of whom living and working in Caithness and Sutherland. However, it must be added that the contract work was 'short term' and that future restoration contract work remains, as ever, contingent on funding. Despite this, the long term economic and social benefits appear positive too. The growth of RSPB's Forsinard Reserve and the associated staffing increase; the sustained number of jobs in Caithness and Sutherland in conservation organisations; and the continued development of the area as a visitor resource, all point towards a longer term economic benefit to the area.

Conservation Plan

Whilst a Conservation Plan is not a requirement for this project, the sustainability of this project has been assured by one of its key outputs: The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland Management Strategy: 2005 - 2015. This document is very much an agreed vision for the future with a long list of actions to ensure that the work of two LIFE Projects (since 1994) does not end in 2007, but continues to address the remaining threats affecting this natura site and, by doing so, securing its conservation status for the future.

 

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