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In the far north of Scotland lies Munsary Peatlands, Plantlife’s largest and wildest nature reserve.
At nearly 2000 hectares, it can seem vast, but it’s only a small part of the much larger Flow Country -an expanse of blanket bog which extends to 187,000 hectares across the north of Scotland.
It is this blanket bog, one of the UK’s most unique landscapes, which is being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Munsary Peatlands forms an integral part of the proposed site, which is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland World Heritage Site.
The Flow Country is the world’s the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world. As well as being hugely important for biodiversity, it is also an important carbon store, locking up around 400 million tonnes of carbon.
Plantlife manages Munsary, our nature reserve, for its peatland habitat and for its rare plants – including the threatened Marsh Saxifrage.
The proposed World Heritage Site is also an Important Plant Area, identified for its important habitat and rare species. Recognising the Flow Country by awarding it World Heritage Site status would further reinforce how important it is for nature and climate.
One of the species from at Munsary – Grass of Parnassus, image by Alistair Whyte
Munsary Peatlands Nature Reserve
Another species found at Munsary – the Round-leaved Sundew, image by Alistair Whyte
In August this year we were delighted to welcome assessors for UNESCO to the reserve, to highlight some of the important features of the Flow Country and to discuss its management.
The visit was part of a week-long tour of the Flow Country by assessors, who met with land managers, local communities and peatland experts as part of their assessment of the Flow Country bid – led by the Flow Country Partnership.
Here at Plantlife, we are strongly supporting the bid, and will continue to work hard to protect Munsary Peatlands as an important part of this unique landscape.
A decision on whether to award the Flow Country World Heritage Site status is expected next year – stay tuned!
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.
Extraction of peat for gardening and horticulture continues to damage wildlife and our climate, despite government commitments to phase it out. Plantlife is calling on governments and industry to end the use of peat in gardening and horticulture to benefit nature and our climate.
Plantlife, along with the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth, is calling on government and industry to replace peat use in gardening and horticulture.
It’s time we stopped this destructive practice. Although the government has set targets to halt horticultural use of peat, too little progress is being made.
Peat-loving bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata at Plantlife’s Munsary nature reserve, Scotland. Photograph by Richard Lindsay
Peat is plant material which is partially decomposed and has accumulated in waterlogged conditions.
Peatlands include moors, bogs and fens, as well as some farmed land.
Peat bogs are particular types of wetlands waterlogged by direct rainfall. Peat bogs grow slowly, accumulating around 0.5 to 1 mm of peat each year, and the water prevents the plants from decomposing. As a result, many areas of UK peat bog have been accumulating gradually for as much as 10,000 years, and can be up to 10m deep. Due to its slow accumulation, peat is often classified as a fossil fuel.
Different types of peat bog have formed in response to the climate and other conditions in differeny locations.
Peat and peatlands are hugely important for plants, the wildlife that depend on them and, ultimately, us humans too.
Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change.
Peat bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk. Water filtered through healthy peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, making it cheaper to treat as drinking water. Around 70% of our water comes from British uplands, and over half of this passes through peat.
Plants to find in peatlands include carpets of colourful mosses and cotton grasses, and dotted with bog asphodel, rare sedges, cuckooflower, marsh violet, sundews, common butterwort, marsh cinquefoil and marsh willowherb.
Peatland wild plants support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, including snipe and curlews, merlins and skylarks.
Commercial peat extraction in the UK and Ireland is largely from raised bogs in the lowlands.
Much less peat comes from blanket bog, which is much thinner and more often found in the uplands in Scotland and western parts of the UK.
IUCN UK Peatland Programme (2011), Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands: Summary of Findings, October 2011
In 2015 more than half of peat used for horticulture in the UK came from the Republic of Ireland, where peat is extracted on a large scale for horticulture and for burning to produce heat and electricity. As peat extraction has declined in the UK, we have increased imports from Ireland, effectively exporting much of the environmental impact.
Put simply, our current use of peat is unsustainable.
As well as campaigning, Plantlife works to raise awareness, and conserve and restore peatlands