The purpose of restoration - a regulatory overview Lorna Harris (SEPA Wetland Ecologist) January 2011
Why is SEPA involved in wetland protection?• Legal duties • Water Framework Directive / WEWS (2003) • preventing further deterioration of, and protecting and enhancing, the status of aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands directly depending on those aquatic ecosystems • Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004) • Natura 2000: No adverse impact on integrity at site level • SSSI: no likely damage to protected feature • Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009• Biodiversity duties • UKBAP/ Scottish Biodiversity Strategy
What wetland types do SEPA protect?• Types (WFD/WEWS, FRM Act, NCSA Act) • Groundwater body dependent wetlands (including raised bogs that depend on a high groundwater table within bedrock) • Surface water body dependent wetlands that are part of surface water bodies (lochside) • Surface water dependent wetlands that are not part of but depend on a surface water body (e.g. floodplain wetland features) • Wetlands that are a designated feature of SSSI • Wetlands that are an interest feature essential to the functioning of a Natura 2000 site (SAC or SPA).
Peatlands• Organo-mineral soils (surface peat layers less than 50cm thick) • Land management affects role in combating diffuse pollution which is regulated by SEPA through the WEWS Act• Fen, reedbed and wet woodland • Contain significant quantities of peat and waterlogged conditions often result in peat formation • Groundwater and/or surface water dependent wetlands protected under WEWS Act • Important ‘natural features’ for requirements under the FRM Act
• Blanket bog and raised bog • SEPA does not regulate water related activities on blanket or raised bog directly, but manages impacts on the downstream water environment and associated wetlands through WEWS • Blanket and raised bogs are also important ‘natural features’ under the FRM Act • Excess peat material (that cannot be re-used) that is generated during construction activities on peatlands is considered to be waste and is managed through PPC (see ‘SEPA Position Statement – Developments on Peat’)• SEPA uses a combination of planning and regulation (licensing) to influence the management of peatlands.
Why are SEPA interested in peatland restoration?• Multiple benefits to the downstream water environment and associated wetlands • Improvements to water quality • Role in sustainable natural flood management • Carbon storage and sequestration • Biodiversity• Fen management and restoration – WEWS and WFD objectives• SEPA have worked in partnership with SNH (project lead), EA, NIEA, NE, CCW and RSPB to develop the ‘Fen Management Handbook’
Aims of peatland restoration• Restore the original function (habitat, carbon store and sequestration) of the peatland• Create the hydrological conditions required for peat accumulation• Raise the water table of the bog to encourage bog species to establish• Consider current land management practices to achieve realistic restoration• Existing guidance: • SNH • FC – Deforesting and Restoring Peat Bogs: A Review
^ Good practice of restoration with water close to the surface and supporting bog vegetation (bog cotton and Sphagnum)
Ditch Blocking • Aim - retain water in bog and slow water movement to encourage growth of Sphagnum moss in ditches • Clear plan (including timescales and map) should be provided • Methods for ditch blocking explained (plastic piling, straw bales, peat dams...) • Guidance is available (SNH)
Ditch blocking – use of excavated peat• Use of excavated peat from construction works must have an ecological benefit to be exempt from waste licensing
• Example of a suitable use - creation of peat dams as part of peatland restoration (Habitat Management Plans)• Issues to consider; • Timing – restoration must be planned in advance of the material being excavated • Quantity of material... • Is the excavated peat suitable? Dry, unconsolidated peat and surface peat should not be used to block ditches • Difficulties of transporting material and access to ditches
Ditch Blocking – good practice^ Peat dam blocking water flow in old forestry drainage ditch.
Ditch blocking and CAR• The blocking of artificial drainage ditches does not require authorisation under CAR.• For larger or natural watercourses please check with the local SEPA office.
Restoration of cutover sites • Restoration to bog not always possible – fen vegetation often more appropriate • Aim – establish suitable vegetation cover, maintain water table and prevent problems for downstream water quality
Mulch and peatland restoration• Mulch/brash is often spread across the surface of a clearfelled peatland area (fell to waste)• Advantages for peatland restoration? • Blocks furrows and slows water flow for Sphagnum • Provides ‘cover’ for Sphagnum growth?• Disadvantages • Exacerbate nutrient leaching and acidification • Risk of leachate from decomposing brash entering watercourses • Dense layer prevents growth of bog species – encourages weeds • Carbon loss…
Does leaving mulch/brash on site have an ecological benefit for peatland?• For waste management exemption SEPA must ensure that application of exempt organic waste to land will result in ecological improvement.• Forest Research (2010). Restoring afforested peat bogs: results of current research • Bog vegetation recovered best in whole-tree removal treatments and least well in fell-to-waste treatments • Evident that dams in main drains and furrows to raise water table are essential for peatland restoration • Does mulch help or hinder peatland restoration?
• There is insufficient scientific evidence to prove that chipped, shredded or mulched material results in ecological improvement• SEPA’s current advice is that spreading forest residues on a peatland does not have an ecological benefit and therefore waste exemptions will not apply• Off-site and commercial applications (biomass) for chipped material needs to be considered as a priority and at the earliest stage in the planning process • Site specific factors to be considered • Reasons for not moving the material off-site must be given (cost) • Arguments for leaving the material on site must be clearly stated (e.g. small volume of material and minimal risk to the environment)
What can be improved to protect peatlands?• The assessment of soil carbon, its state and management, is currently fragmented across several authorities. ‘SEPA advises that soil carbon is, assessed, monitored, regulated and protected via the planning and environmental protection systems in a coordinated way.’• SEPA advises that the policy agenda for protection of peatlands in Scotland is better co- ordinated, including drivers such as Climate Change Act, FRM Act, WEWS, NCSA.
• Further research on the impacts of developments (e.g. long term hydrological impacts) and management practices (e.g. grazing and burning) on peatlands is required.• Further long-term monitoring of peatland restoration on development sites• SEPA recognises the benefit of good practice guidance • ‘Good Practice during Wind Farm Construction’ (SNH, SEPA, Scottish Renewables, FCS) • Good practice guidance for peatland restoration (SNH/Macaulay project) • Good practice guidance for wind farm decommissioning – proposed
Long term sustainable restoration of peatlands needs to include and optimise all ecosystem services (environmental, social and economic) that the peatland provides, both of the actual area and its functioning in the wider catchment.