Butterfly Conservation's Wester Moss reserve - David Hill

This #PeatFreeApril, we are celebrating bogs! Butterfly Conservation's Peatland Restoration Project Officer, Polly Phillpot explains just how important peatland habitats are for the UK’s butterflies and moths and why going ‘peat free’ is a vital part of protecting them.

Peatlands are technically wetlands, made from the accumulation of partially decayed sphagnum mosses over thousands of years and under waterlogged conditions. Sphagnum forms the main building blocks of peatlands and hence peat itself. In some lowland bogs, the peat can be up to 10 metres deep, having formed since the last Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago!

However, this is a rare ecosystem globally, occupying only 3% of the land surface. In the UK, peatlands only make up 12% of the land but they are an incredibly important habitat.

Peatlands are fantastic carbon stores. They hold an estimated 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon in the UK alone – that’s more than double the carbon stored in the UK’s forests. Peatlands also help with water management. They improve water quality by acting as a filter, and they also act like a big sponge, absorbing vast amounts of rainwater. In fact, sphagnum mosses, hold 20-30 times their dry weight in water. The average household sponge only holds seven times its dry weight!  This makes bogs a brilliant natural flood defence for nearby towns, villages and farmland.

Bogs are also brilliant for wildlife. They support a unique array of plants and animals that are not found anywhere else. Bogs tend to be acidic, nutrient poor environments, where sphagnum mosses thrive and fascinating specialist plants like carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews and Bog Cranberry can be found. They’re also great places to spot dragonflies, Common Lizards, Adders, Short-eared Owls, and Snipe. And, of course, they are a vital habitat for a host of moths and butterflies. Bogs are home to the beautiful Wood Tiger, Lunar Hornet Moth, and Emperor Moth, and peatlands are the only place to see the Large Heath – a rare butterfly that has declined by 58% in the UK since the 1970s because, sadly, our peatlands are under threat.

80% of the UK’s peatlands are already damaged and drying out, due to historic draining for agriculture, afforestation and commercial extraction. This drying out process has a negative impact on peatlands and their wildlife and also results in stored carbon being released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Butterfly Conservation’s Bog Squad volunteer group is working hard to restore Scottish lowland raised bogs, helping to re-wet them, by blocking up old ditches and removing encroaching scrub that sucks water from the bog.

However, we also need people at home to take action. It takes 1,000 years to produce just 1 metre of peat, and commercial extraction of peat for compost removes hundreds of years of growth in just a few months. You can help by:

  • writing to your MP or MSP to ask them to work with the horticultural industry to move away from using peat.
  • sharing plant cuttings with friends instead of buying plants grown in peat. 
  • planting from seed.
  • using peat-free products in your Wild Space!

Polly Phillpot
Peatland Restoration Project Officer, Butterfly Conservation

Read our advice on using peat-free products in your Wild Space here Going Peat-Free In Your Wild Space - Wild Spaces (wild-spaces.co.uk)

We thank Peatland ACTION for their continued support of the Bog Squad Project.