Outer Hebrides Peat Bog

July 27, 2008


Photo Provided by: Stu Witmer
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

This is a bog; A peat bog to be exact. On a recent visit to friends on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, I went to help cut peat from the family plot. Peat is burned in the fireplace like cordwood. Like cordwood, it needs to be stacked and dried before use. Unlike wood and more like coal, peat does not crackle, pop or shoot embers and it tends to glow rather than flame. Indeed, many refer to peat as young coal. Peat smoke has a unique aroma and is used to flavor some Scotch whisky.  

In 2000 the Benbecula government determined that, if harvested in the traditional manner by local residents, peat bogs can not only survive but also even grow, albeit literally at glacial rates. While there are some who disagree with those findings, it remains to be seen if this fragile sustainability can be maintained in the face of rising oil prices.

Some scientists suggest that expanding peat bogs may also be dangerous to the health of the planet. With this in mind, the National Trust of England, owners of a large bog in England's Lake District, have dropped seeds and bales of heather from helicopters in an attempt to keep the Bleaklow peat bog from drying out and giving up its carbon dioxide.

In addition to England and Scotland, there are extensive peat bogs in Ireland, Finland, China, Indonesia, Russia, Scandinavia, the United States and Canada, which leads the list with peatlands covering about 12 percent of the country. Natural Resources Canada is closely monitoring their peatlands for the effects of climate warming. As the permafrost beneath much of Canadian peatlands melts, methane emissions could increase dramatically.

Sunday, July 27, 2008 is the 17th annual International Bog Day. A day to celebrate the beauty of bogs, to consider ways to conserve bogs and to have a grand day out engaging in the extreme sport of Bog Snorkeling!

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