Scotland restores its peatlands to keep carbon in the ground

Often overlooked as critical carbon sinks, peatlands store at least twice as much carbon as forests. After years of degredation, Scotland has increased its ambition in restoring these important areas.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)

The burning Amazon rainforests, with their jaguars, monkeys and colourful birds, have grabbed global attention in a way the destruction of the world’s mossy peatlands never has.

Yet protecting the world’s peatlands, which store at least twice as much carbon as forests, is critical in the fight against climate change.

Peatlands, also known as bogs, are created when the remains of plants are submerged in waterlogged lands, turning them over time into peat with the plants’ carbon still stored inside. They cover around 3% of the world’s land and are found in 175 countries, mostly in northern Europe, North America and Southeast Asia.

Scotland has a particularly high coverage, with bogs amounting to 20% of it’s of land (roughly 1.7 million hectares) mainly in its lesser-populated north and western islands.

Decades of degradation

However the Scottish governmentestimates that roughly a third of the country’s total —  roughly 600,000 hectares —  have been degraded. Scotland’s peatlands, created mostly in areas left water-logged from the melting of Ice Age glaciers, lay untouched for thousands of years until farmers began to drain the land, building ditches so the water would run downhill into rivers.

While such ditches date back to Roman times in parts of Britain, their building intensified in Scotland in the 1950s with the advent of new machinery and government grants aimed at improving grazing.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands in Scotland cover roughly 20% of its land

Without the bogs’ acidic water there to preserve them, the dead plants in the peat start to degrade, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The degradation is sped up by the sun and wind they are exposed to without their water coverage.

Restoration plans

To correct past mistakes, landowners are being offered grants by the Scottish government to block the drainage ditches their predecessors were encouraged to dig. A total of €16.3 million ($18 million) has been madeavailable this year. The hope is that 50,000 hectares will have been restored by the end of 2020, and 250,000 hectares by 2030.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said.

Speed is key

“We want to do things as quickly as possible,” he told DW, “because obviously there’s a climate emergency.”

McBride says that landowners are often keen for restoration on their property as the farming benefits of drainage were not as great as previously thought. It only really improved the land right next to the bog, he says, adding that the drainage of ditches cause its own problems. On large estates, wandering sheep often fall into the ditches and can’t get out.

Global Ideas Bogs in Scotland (SNH/Lorne Gill)Peatlands can store up to twice as much carbon as forests.

Scotland is also trying to restore bogs by cutting down trees. In the 1980s, the UK government introduced tax incentives encouraging landowners to drain bogs to plant trees. This was a double hit —  first drainage dried the land and then the trees sucked out even more of the moisture.

Although the trees absorbed carbon as they grew, that didn’t cancel out the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the peatlands’ destruction.

Protests from conservationists eventually ended the tax incentives and now even the Scottish government agency Forestry and Land Scotland is aiming to transform2,500 hectares of forest back into peatland over five years.

The restoration happens in two ways according to Andrew McBride, who works for Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for handing out grants. It can either involve a ditch being filled in with peat from nearby, or a wooden dam being built inside the ditch to slow down the loss of water and spread it across the bog.

When the ditches are blocked, rainwater increases the water level, erosion stops and within two years, plants such as moss return. Within five to fifteen years, the bogs are back to fully functioning, McBride said. MORE

The only growing business in the oilpatch: dead wells

More oil and gas wells will be decommissioned in Alberta this year than new wells drilled


A rig crew works to clean up an old natural gas well near Stettler, Alta. The growth potential for decommissioning wells is substantial considering there are about 93,000 inactive wells in Alberta and 139,000 across Western Canada. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

In the middle of a farmer’s field, the rumble of machinery can be heard half a kilometre away.

There aren’t any tractors or combines in sight. Instead a collection of cement and water trucks and other equipment surround a large service rig.

The crew would much rather be busy drilling new oil and gas wells, but with the oilpatch stuck in a seemingly endless downward spiral, the rig hands are just happy to get a cheque.

Much of the work is like this: decommissioning old wells.

“The last three months have been pretty good. Things are picking up a little bit,” said Jonathan Hofer, a 26-year-old who began working on the rigs when he was 15.

“When I first started working on the rigs, you were busy all the time. Now, if you get two weeks in a month or sometimes one week, you do pretty good,” he said.

In the middle of a farmer’s field, the rumble of machinery can be heard half a kilometre away.There aren’t any tractors or combines in sight. Instead a collection of cement and water trucks and other equipment surround a large service rig.

The crew would much rather be busy drilling new oil and gas wells, but with the oilpatch stuck in a seemingly endless downward spiral, the rig hands are just happy to get a cheque.

Much of the work is like this: decommissioning old wells.

“The last three months have been pretty good. Things are picking up a little bit,” said Jonathan Hofer, a 26-year-old who began working on the rigs when he was 15.

“When I first started working on the rigs, you were busy all the time. Now, if you get two weeks in a month or sometimes one week, you do pretty good,” he said.



Cleaning up old wells is the only growing business right now in the oilpatch in Western Canada. Still, the rise in business is somewhat limited and is just enough to help keep some small oilfield service companies in business.

Without it, many more of the firms would go belly up.

“I joke the only thing worse than being in the service rig business is being in the drilling rig business right now,” said Scott Darling, president of Performance Energy Services. About 70 of the 100 people employed at the business are focused on decommissioning old wells. MORE

Forestry sector scrambles to recruit tree planters to sow millions – perhaps billions – more seedlings

B.C. silviculture companies are struggling to find up to 1,000 more tree planters


Veteran tree planter Jeff Andrews works his way across a B.C. mountainside. Facing a multimillion-seedling spike in the number of trees that need to be planted, B.C. is need of hundreds more tree planters for the 2020 season. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

It takes the stamina of an athlete to run up the side of a steep mountain the way Lann Dickson does.

“Nothing about it is easy,” said Dickson.

“A lot of people quit in the first week or two, it definitely breaks a lot of people.”

The veteran tree planter zig-zags across the mountainside in Fraser Canyon near Boston Bar, B.C., dodging stumps and branches, with 300 seedlings tucked into pouches strapped around his waist. Without losing a beat, Dickson pierces the ground with his shovel and slings a seedling into the ground. Then he’s off to the next spot he eyes several metres away.

Dickson has been tree planting in B.C. for 24 years, and skilled workers like him are in extremely high demand right now.

And that’s before the ambitious campaign promises by federal parties to plant billions more trees across Canada are even factored in.

Experienced tree planters like Lann Dickson are in high demand, because they know how to move quickly and safely across tricky terrain, and have the skills to sow hundreds of trees a day. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

B.C. alone needs to plant an estimated 48 million more trees in 2020 than it did last year in an effort to restore massive areas burned in the province after two record-breaking wildfires, and to promote carbon sequestration.

The Western Forestry Contractors’ Association estimates the increase may be the largest leap in planting volume in the industry’s 50-year history, going from 270 million seedlings this year to as many as 318 million seedlings next year.


In addition to normal projects to reforest trees harvested for logging, B.C. is planning to plant millions more trees next year in areas burned by wildfire. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Labour shortage

The industry estimates it employs roughly 4,500 workers. It will require 500 to 1,000 more planters to sow all those extra seedlings next year.

“It’s going to be a challenge for sure, [with] a lot more trees coming to market this year than past years,” said Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation.

Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation, says he believes it’s a great time to be a tree planter, as there is a huge need to reforest areas harvested and burned down by wildfires. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Adding to that extra demand, the search for reliable and experienced planters could skyrocket after a recent landmark study by Swiss researchers found that tree planting could play a huge role in combating climate change. Federal leaders on the campaign trail jumped on the study, and two parties have promised to plant billions of trees if elected.

The Liberals have pledged to plant 2 billion more trees over the next decade across the country to get Canada closer to carbon neutrality.

The Greens have an even more ambitious goal — 10 billion trees over the next three decades. MORE

Environmentalism’s Next Frontier: Giving Nature Legal Rights

Ships and corporations have legal standing. Should ecosystems?

Matt Chinworth

In the summer of 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, announced that the city’s tap water was no longer safe to drink. A toxic algae bloom caused by fertilizer runoff had poisoned Lake Erie, the primary water source for the area’s half-million residents, sickening more than 100 people. Stores emptied of bottled water within hours. For three days, “it was just total panic,” recalls Markie Miller. “People were fighting over it.”

Miller joined Toledoans for Safe Water, a group of residents who had been trying to convince officials to clean up the lake, to no avail. Then, in late 2015, members of the group attended a presentation put on by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund about advancing the “rights of nature”—the idea that eco­systems, like humans, have legal rights.

After the presentation, some Toledoans met in a pub and drafted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. This past February, voters chose to amend the city charter to grant the lake the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The amendment allows any resident to sue governments or businesses that infringe upon the lake’s rights—for example, by polluting it with fertilizer.

Toledo isn’t the only place to recognize the rights of nature. In 2006, Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, passed an ordinance to prohibit corporations from dumping waste sludge into nearby open-pit mines by mandating that any resident could sue to vindicate the “rights of natural communities and ecosystems.” Since then, more than three dozen communities across the United States have adopted similar measures. In 2018, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, a Native American nation in Minnesota, codified the rights of manoomin, or wild rice, to “flourish, regenerate, and evolve.” As Casey Camp-Horinek, an environmentalist and matriarch of the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma, points out, the rights-of-nature movement “simply recognizes what the indigenous people have always been a part of: the natural cycle of life belonging to all living things, not just humans.”

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe codified the rights of manoomin, or wild rice, to “flourish, regenerate, and evolve.”

Outside the United States, Ecuador wrote the rights of nature into its constitution in 2008. In 2017, a court in India ruled that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers have the same legal standing as people (the ruling was later overturned). The Whanganui, New Zealand’s longest navigable river, has legal standing under a law passed that same year.

Rights-of-nature laws often work by appointing a guardian to advocate for a particular ecosystem or natural feature, much like a parent represents a child’s interests in court. The guardian can sue on the ecosystem’s behalf. If the ecosystem is awarded damages, the money might go into a trust dedicated to funding its restoration. MORE

RELATED:
The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth

Both Notley and Kenney Hiding from a $260-Billion Cleanup Problem

The Alberta government may well leave taxpayers to clean up the oil and gas industry’s mess.

Oil well
‘I think this issue is too big and too scary for both government and industry to face.’

The main thing Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley have in common, other than their affinity for pipelines, is their joint fear of the possible $260-billion cleanup bill for the province’s aging oil and gas fields.

Neither Kenney, the United Conservative Party leader, nor NDP Premier Notley have said much on the hustings about this astounding liability, which includes tens of thousands of inactive wells, abandoned gas plants, oil sands tailing ponds and 400,000 kilometres of pipelines.

The mountainous size of the cleanup costs dwarfs the puny pile of security deposits the province has collected from industry to pay for the cleanup — $1.5 billion.

Regan Boychuk, a 41-year-old Calgary roofer, independent researcher and a driving member of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, understands why Kenney and Notley don’t want to talk about such embarrassing math.

“I think this issue is too big and too scary for both government and industry to face. It is a can of worms,” said Boychuk in a Tyee interview.

But if not corrected, the scale of the problem could affect the province’s credit rating, bankrupt hundreds of smaller oil and gas firms and leave Canadian taxpayers with the mother of all cleanup bills. MORE

 

Environmentalists call for Carbon Capture and Storage – with forests

Amazonian rainforest
CC BY 2.0 Amazonian rainforest/ Lloyd Alter

Greta Thunberg, Margaret Atwood, Michael Mann, Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, George Monbiot and more make the case.

We go on about wood here on TreeHugger, but often fail to see the forest for the trees. In fact, those forests could save us, by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere faster than we are making it. Instead, we are chopping them down and, in many parts of the world, failing to replant them. Every thing we say about the wonders of wood construction are meaningless if we don’t replace every tree we turn into CLT and NLT and DLT and every other form of wood we invent.

Writing in the Guardian, a long list of environmental luminaries, from Greta Thunberg to Brian Eno, have written an important letter calling for protecting and restoring ecosystems.

By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds and other crucial ecosystems, large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored. At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help minimise a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster. Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same. This potential has so far been largely overlooked.

The writers note that this can’t be a substitute for decarbonization of industrial economies, but note that “natural climate solutions could help us hold the heating of the planet below.”Drax carbon capture and storageDrax carbon capture and storage/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

MORE

Making the most of the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’: bioregional regenerative development as a deep adaptation pathway

On a crisp and frosty April morning in the North of Scotland in 2002, at the Findhorn Foundation ecovillage, some 250 activists and landscape restoration practitioners from all over the world declared the 21st Century as the ‘Century for Earth Restoration’. The conference was called by Alan Watson Featherstone who set up Trees for Life, a project that has since planted close to two million native trees to restore Scotland’s great ‘Caledonian Forest’. John Manocheri was the official UNEP delegate at the conference, and now — 17 years later — UN Environment has finally taken leadership on this issue and announced the ‘UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration’ (2021–2030).

I remember the conference well. How we all shared this sense of urgency back then already. How being surrounded by people sharing stories of hope from their ecosystems restoration projects around the world was deeply inspiring and yet at the same time news was flooding in that we were loosing biodiversity, forests, top soils, and wilderness so much faster than we were able to respond to.

This is still the case, but the tide is turning. During the ‘circle of commitment’ at the conference I voiced my intention to set up an environmental education and sustainability training centre in Spain, and all these years later I am delighted to be on the advisory council of the Ecosystem Restoration CampsFoundation, who’s first camp is located in Souther Spain near Murcia. My own work as an educator writing curriculum for Gaia Education has helped to train more that 15k people from 125 countries around the world in the skills and frameworks necessary to engage in whole systems design for sustainability and regeneration.

Alan Watson Featherstone on Restoring the Caledonian Forests

Growing numbers of people are committing their lives to healing the damage our species has done over the centuries and millennia to this abundant blue green planet. Projects have been established around the world that demonstrate that human beings as part of life are capable of creating conditions conducive to life. MORE