Huge flow country wildfire doubles Scotland’s emissions


A massive wildfire on peatland in the far north in May has doubled Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions for the six days it burnt, a study has estimated.

About 22 sq miles (5,700 hectares) of blanket bog in the Flow Country, which stretches across Caithness and Sutherland, was affected.

The WWF Scotland study claimed 700,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent was released into the atmosphere as a result.

That is similar to the amount released across the rest of Scotland.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, contribute to climate warming and are released by many activities such as energy supply, industrial processes, transport, heating and agriculture.

The Flow Country, home to the largest continuous peatbog in Europe, is estimated to hold almost 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

The study, commissioned by environmental campaign group WWF, called for more government investment to protect and improve peat bogs.

Head of policy Gina Hanrahan said: “This analysis puts into stark figures the importance of our peatlands and the huge cost to climate and nature when something goes wrong.”

The Flow Country peatbog is formed from layers of dead vegetation such a sphagnum moss. Because of the waterlogged conditions, the plants do not decompose which traps carbon in the peat soil.

Experts say the quality of peatlands can play a significant role in minimising emissions in the event of a wildfire.

Emma Goodyer, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said: “Healthy peatlands are more resilient to fire. A great deal of peatland restoration work is being undertaken across the UK already with at least 150 projects carried out in Scotland.

“However, we need to increase the scale of funding available for peatland restoration if we are to urgently respond to the climate crisis and to increase the resilience of our peatlands.”