Millions of Trees to Be Sacrificed for Rare Scottish Bog

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The Forestry Commission plans to fell 1,200 acres (3,000 hectares) of their own conifer plantations.

The entire project is expected to cost around U.S. $4.6 million by the time it is completed in 2005. The European Union will contribute 60 percent of the project's funding.

World Heritage Site

Scotland's blanket bogs comprise a unique habitat. They cloak the landscape in up to 98 percent water-based peat and are dominated by sphagnum mosses, dwarf shrub vegetation, and thousands of bog pools and small lochs. The unique nature of the habitat is behind the recent European proposal to list it as a World Heritage Site.

The blanket bog is home to many declining species including tiny insect-devouring sundew plants, primitive liverworts, and rare bog orchids, as well as many endangered insects and birds, said Russell.

The RSPBs interest in the site was sparked by a diverse population of protected birds, including greenshanks, black scoter ducks, dunlins, golden plovers, black-throated divers, short eared owls, and merlins. Blanket bog is also found in Argentina's Tierra del Fuego, New Zealand's South Island, and across the world at similar latitudes. However, the 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers) found in Scotland's Caithness and Sutherland counties make it probably the largest expanse in the world, said Russell.

"Northern Scotland has one of the largest and most diverse areas of blanket bog in the world," commented geographer Lisa R. Belyea of Scotland's University of Edinburgh. "The Scottish blanket bogs are widely regarded as the [model example] for a habitat that is internationally rare," she said. "The restoration aims of the Life Peatlands project certainly are ambitious," said Belyea, who commended the attempt to restore the bogs. "Once the existing trees are cut down, the biggest challenge will be to prevent the establishment of new seedlings."

However, she added, some of the damage may in fact be irreparable. "I think we may have to accept, though, that it may not be possible to restore the landscape to what it was in the past," she said.

RSPB hopes to complete the first round of tree felling—the removal of 750 acres (300 hectares) of plantation—in Forsinard by April. The second phase will commence next August so as not to disturb bird breeding seasons which begin in the spring.

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