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The peat debate should peat bogs be utilised as a resource or conserved as rare natural habitats Introduction In 1988 the Secretary of State gave clearance to the Scottish Natural Heritage SNH to designate up to half of the remaining 3500 km2 of peatland in Caithness and Sutherland as Sites of Special Scientific Interest SSSIs Four years later Highland Regional Council HRC identified Caithness as an area strategically suited to the development of peat extraction on a commercial scale Lavers Haines-Young 1995 Background on peat The peat bogs of Britain represent some of the very last remnants of this countrys primeval landscape Peatlands cover more than 500 million hectares of the global land-surface and a significant proportion lies in northern temperate Europe Lindsay 1993 Peat bogs cover 15 million hectares of Britain and 195 million hectares of Scotland which accounts for 184 of the United Kingdoms land-surface Bragg Tallis 2001 Peat bog is raised above the mineral groundwater table and thus supplied directly by precipitation Goode Ratcliffe 1977 Peat is a soil that is made up of the partially decomposed remains of dead plants which have accumulated on top of each other in waterlogged places for thousands of years Peat is brownish-black in appearance and in its natural state is composed of 90 water and 10 solid material It consists of Sphagnum moss along with the roots leaves flowers and seeds of heathers grasses and sedges Occasionally the trunks and roots of trees such as Scots pine oak birch and yew are also present in the peat The accumulation of peat occurs in areas where the rate of plant production exceeds the rate of plant decomposition Complete plant decomposition is prevented in waterlogged areas such as peatlands Climatic conditions such as high rainfall and lower temperatures lead to low rates of evaporation and results in waterlogged soils which are conducive to peat formation Waterlogged soils are anaerobic since all
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