Monday, February 28, 2011

Peat Workings

Peat Workings
Watercolour
25 x 35 cm

Peat bogs are common throughout Northern Scotland. They are are formed when the ground is wet and plants, especially mosses, don't decay fully. Instead they form layers of dark fibrous material, at a rate of about 1mm per year, to a depth of as much as 4m. In geological terms peat is the first stage in the formation of coal.

Since ancient times, people have dug up and burned peat to heat their houses and this small-scale use has generally been sustainable. However, in some parts of Britain and Ireland large scale operations, extracting peat for use in gardening products, have resulted in extensive damage to sensitive environments. Large areas have been stripped bare and the peat will take thousands of years to build up again. Fortunately, although there has been some commercial digging in Caithness in the past, it has been for fuel and the area involved is small.

When small areas are cut there is little damage and there can even be benefits for wildlife. The holes that are left fill up with water and form pools, forming a habitat for amphibians, and aquatic plants and insects.