A network of remotely monitored Internet of Things (IoT) sensors is being trialled to help monitor the health of peatland in Scotland’s Western Isles, in what is believed to be one of the first projects of its kind in Europe.

Peatland covers around 20 per cent of Scotland and is vitally important to the environment as it stores 1.7bn tons of carbon, the equivalent of around 140 years of Scotland’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is estimated that 80 per cent of this peatland is damaged, which allows it to dry out. If this continues it will release a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, making climate change worse. 

The deteriorating nature of peatlands is not just a local problem. Across Europe, these ecosystems store five times more CO2 than forests.  This is a particular concern in Finland (home to almost a third of Europe’s peatlands) and Sweden (where one quarter are located), with the remainder in the UK, Poland, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, The Netherlands and France. Ensuring these peatlands are preserved is of paramount importance across the continent.

The year-long trial, which covers a peatland area surrounding Loch Orasaigh in the Western Isles, is being carried out by UK digital connectivity specialist, FarrPoint in collaboration with NatureScot Peatland ACTION, the Carloway Estate Trust and Scottish Water with funding from the Scottish Government. 

This work aligns with the Scottish Government’s £250m, 10-year peatland restoration initiative, to significantly reduce carbon emissions and support biodiversity as part of its climate change plan. Peatland ACTION funded restoration work around Loch Orasaigh has been phased over several years and the IoT sensors are currently gathering a baseline dataset prior to restoration of this area. Post restoration monitoring is also planned using the same technology.

Monitoring peatland to measure its water content has traditionally been a manual task, with regular travel to monitoring stations in often remote locations, often on foot. FarrPoint’s IoT solution to monitor peatland could become a game changer in helping to save peatlands in the UK and beyond, by providing real-time information to inform how restoration work impacts the health of the peatland. 

 Dr Andrew Muir, FarrPoint’s CEO, said: “Scotland’s peatlands are one of our key natural resources in the fight against rising carbon emissions and we must make efforts to protect them. 

“When in good condition, our peatlands offer multiple benefits to the environment and our communities. With 80% of Scotland’s peatlands damaged, projects such as this can help us fight climate change and support biodiversity.

 “Digital technologies will become central to our ability to limit the damage of climate change and hit our net-zero targets. This summer’s drought has shown how vulnerable the UK is to extreme heat and this trial will provide valuable and timely data which will help inform future peatland restoration activities. 

“Connecting remote and rural areas with digital technologies can be extremely challenging, and whilst benefits have been shown for larger cities, this trial will create key learnings that can be applied to other remote regions of Scotland and Europe.”