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  • Carys Mainprize

The Flux Tower of Dumfries and Galloway

Deep in South Scotland, outside Dumfries, a 14-metre tower looks over the canopy of conifers, planted as a second crop of trees on deep peat (which means the peat is deeper than 0.5m). This project, several years in the making (and then some), has finally come to fruition with regional and national partners coming together to obtain necessary data of how trees impact the carbon stored in peat.


Project partners gather under the flux tower


Project Partners include the main funder Nature Scot PeatlandACTION, land owner Forestry and Land Scotland, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who gifted the tower, and The James Hutton Institute, for monitoring of the data and research. Supporting partners are Dulas, who built the tower, South of Scotland Enterprise who assisted with funding, Clark Scaffolding, and Craig Williamson who erected the fencing.


Flux towers measure something called Eddy Covariance; the turbulence created by upward and downward movement of air-parcels containing greenhouse gases. Since it’s increased greenhouse gas emissions (like methane and carbon dioxide) that are causing the climate crisis (caused by human actions which create or release the greenhouse gases), understanding how the important carbon sinks of peatlands become carbon sources when planted is vital in tackling climate change – and reaching net zero.


Climbing the flux tower

Since peatlands are such good stores of carbon – because the waterlogged and acidic nature mean that plants like sphagnum don’t decompose when they die, but instead get squashed and stored – they’re in the media more and more as they’re widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest tools the UK might have to store the excess carbon in the atmosphere in a natural way. Since 12% of the UK’s land surface is peatland (rising to over 20% for Scotland), there’s no shortage of potential stores.


However, 80% of the UK’s peatland is modified or degraded in some way. Through drainage for forestry, agriculture, infrastructure, and also overgrazing by livestock or deer, our peatlands have become sources, not sinks, of carbon. It’s thought that 4% of the UK’s annual emissions come from our peatlands.


This is why there’s such a focus on restoring peatlands. Through the NatureScot PeatlandACTION Programme, and other organisations across the rest of the UK, peatland restoration is a top priority. Making our peatlands healthy by removing plantation forestry and rewetting the bog means they no longer emit carbon. If we are successful and conditions are right, they’ll even become a carbon sink again and help with tackling the climate crisis.


The James Hutton Institute installs instrumentation with CCC Support

Where does the flux tower come into this?


Many peatlands were planted with forestry crops in the past. At the time, the importance of peatland wasn’t as known. Many of those plantations are coming up to harvest, and some have been harvested and replanted (although many are now being restored instead). Given the quantity of afforested peatlands at the cusp of harvest and – potentially – replanting, we need data to understand what impacts second rotation forestry has on our peatlands and the carbon stored within. How does a second crop of trees interact with the carbon stored in peatlands? Do they continue to dry out and release that carbon, or do the trees offset this release during their growth? What might this interplay mean for peatland restoration designs?


This is where the flux tower comes in. The data it will provide will help to answer these questions and fill the gaps in our knowledge.  It’s South of Scotland’s first tower, and joins a network of several other towers across Scotland (mostly in the Highlands and Islands). We hope that the tower will act as an emblem of climate research in South West Scotland and open up new scientific discussions, collaborations and opportunities.

We’re excited to share our learning once enough data has been taken, so keep an eye out for that.


Sources and further reading:



 

With thanks to our project partners and funders:


The Crichton Carbon Centre - https://carboncentre.org/

The Crichton Carbon Centre is an independent, environmental not-for-profit organisation established in 2007.  CCC specialises in peatland restoration, carbon management, sustainable land-use and environmental education. CCC exchanges their specialist knowledge and practical experiences with nurtured partnerships and communities to catalyse change and bring climate resilience.


Forestry and Land Scotland - https://forestryandland.gov.scot/ 

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.


The James Hutton Institute - https://www.hutton.ac.uk/ 

The James Hutton Institute is at the forefront of meeting the global challenges of providing food, energy and water from finite land and natural resources. The institute’s strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic sciences enable a broad range of science disciplines to interconnect, delivering knowledge, products and services that improve the quality of life. In partnership with people, organisations and governments, the institute’s work enhances sustainable environmental, social and economic development, delivering practical solutions for our shared future and influencing the agenda for land use and development for the 21st Century.


The UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology - https://www.ceh.ac.uk/ 

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is an independent, not-for-profit research institute carrying out excellent environmental science with impact. Our 500+ scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life, and the human impact on it. We provide the data and insights that governments, businesses and researchers need to create a productive, resilient and healthy environment. Scientific curiosity, integrity and transparency are at the heart of how we work. www.ceh.ac.uk


Peatland ACTION is a Scottish Government funded initiative focused on the restoration of damaged peatlands in Scotland for the many benefits to both people and nature. Funding comes through the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan to net zero to restore 250,000 hectares by 2030. The Peatland ACTION programme is delivered through a network of partner organisations* including NatureScot - Scotland’s nature agency.

South of Scotland Enterprise - https://www.southofscotlandenterprise.com/ 


South of Scotland Enterprise is the development agency for businesses and communities throughout Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders. SOSE is here to help people and enterprises in the South to thrive, grow, and fulfil their best potential.

Every enterprise is different, and SOSE support is tailored every stage and situation.


With over 40 years of experience in the clean energy sector, Dulas is an award-winning renewable energy installer and consultancy, specialising in the wind, solar and hydro sectors. Since 1982 Dulas has been at the forefront of renewables innovation, helping to plan and install some of the very first UK wind farms. To date, the firm’s engineers, planners and consultants have worked on over 400MW of renewables projects across the UK, offering a complete package of development services to utility, commercial, community and landowner renewable energy

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