On a trip to Dumfries, our peatland initiative team visited the Crichton Carbon Centre and NatureScot’s Kirkconnell Flow, and made valuable connections with those working on peatland restoration and environmental education in these locations. Julie Young, ACT chief executive, talks about what they learned on the trip. 

On Tuesday 1 August, the ACT peatland team – Deb Baker, Angharad Ward and Julie Young – made the journey from Argyll to Kirkgunzeon outside Dumfries to visit the Crichton Carbon Centre (the Centre). That’s quite a long haul when the ferry from Islay is factored in, but we made the trip in good time and found our hotel easily. Despite a couple of slightly Fawlty Towers moments, we had a good evening and gathered our thoughts ready to spend some time with the Crichton Carbon Centre team.

Crichton Carbon Centre was established in 2007, started by a board of voluntary Trustees who had the vision, experience, resources and skills to launch a new organisation with the objective of “keeping peat where it belongs”.

The centre manager, Dr Emily Taylor, has been with the organisation since the outset and has a wealth of practical experience. She has great energy and enthusiasm for what she does and is clearly dedicated to her role and inspires those around her. The Centre has a staff team of eight and their main projects are:

  • Peatland ACTION – the NatureScot programme which ACT are also delivering.
  • Peatland ACTION officer training.
  • Peatland Connections - bringing together people from different communities using art and science.
  • Environmental education including Biosphere Explorers, Our Coast and Climate Change, and Inspiring Young Environmentalists programmes which are delivered in schools across Dumfries and Galloway.

Photo: With the Crichton Carbon Centre team, from the back left to right are Phoebe, Anna, Angharad and Julie. From the front left to right are Deb and Carys.

From drain blocking to waterproof jackets

Crichton Carbon Centre has been heavily involved with NatureScot’s Peatland Action programme and was one of the first external organisations – not NatureScot – to host a Peatland Action officer post. This was one of the many parallels with ACT – Deb and Angharad are both part-time Peatland ACTION officers so we it was a great opportunity for us to talk through the delivery of that role with Dr Emily Taylor and Anna Basley, one of the Centre’s full-time Peatland ACTION Officers, and intern Phoebe Gray. It was great to get the benefit of their experience and perspectives on project delivery and they were very generous with their time and expertise.

The Peatland ACTION Officer role is a complex one – demanding a high level of technical, diplomatic and communications skills – and the conversation covered a full range of topics, from drain blocking options and techniques to procurement, to site management and back to peat corers and augers. And, of course, the inevitable conversation about which wellies and jackets are the most waterproof!

Photo: Anna from Crichton Carbon Centre explaining their peat corer.

Environmental education

Then we met their education and communications officer Carys Mainprize who works in schools across Dumfries and Galloway to spread the word about climate change and the importance of peatland restoration and preservation. We talked about our STEM outdoor learning project and the outreach programme that Deb and Angharad have scheduled with high school pupils in the coming academic year. They showed us a great film that captures what they are achieving with their Biosphere Explorers project. We plan to shamelessly copy many of the Centre’s educational resources and ideas – the Greenhouse Gas Game is on its way to Argyll! They have achieved such a lot and clearly inspired many of the area’s school children to actively engage with climate change and its impacts.

Our heads were full of those conversations, so being joined by our pal Hazel, a NatureScot Peatland ACTION officer for a lovely evening in Dumfries and wander around the River Nith bridges was just the ticket.

A visit to Kirkconnell Flow

The final day of our trip was a site visit to Kirkconnell Flow led by the site manager Suzanne McIntyre  We were also joined by Deborah Land and Hazel White from NatureScot’s Peatland ACTION team and Lewis Roberston, Anna Basley and Phoebe Gray from the Crichton Carbon Centre.

Photo: sandbags and plastic peat dam at Kirkconnell Flow Nature Reserve, by Julie Young/ACT.

The extensive three-phase programme of work at Kirkconnell (phase three to commence shortly) involves cell bunding, tree and shrub removal and mulching, and has resulted in a very successful site which is well on its way to recovery. There was a significant amount of birch regeneration following the mulching programme, and an animated conversation ensued on the options for clearance, the use of peat, wood or plastic dams for drain blocking with sandbags to reinforce, with regular interruptions to flag up interesting plants and wildlife or to retrieve one of our party from a ditch. The site is home to sundew, wild rosemary and abundant blueberries, and regular bird visitors include lapwing, nightjars and redshank.   

Photo: View over Kirkconnell Flow, by Angharad Ward/ACT. 

Learning from the best

Hazel and Lewis then went on to visit Moss of Cree, while Deb, Angharad and I joined Deborah Land, who has recently taken up the role of Peatland ACTION project manager, for a discussion around our respective roles within the project and future plans. Deborah is exceptionally experienced in peatland restoration and has joined Peatland ACTION from Natural England, so again, another opportunity to learn from the best!  Also great to have the opportunity to put forward our experiences of working in Argyll as part of the Peatland ACTION network and ideas for the future, including the launch of our new survey enterprise, ACT Ecology

Photo: from left to right, Angharad, Julie and Deb at Kirkconnell Flow. 

It was a grand couple of days away – it’s always good to spend time together as a team, and we learned a lot, made some great connections and have some new approaches and ideas we are excited to be incorporating into our ACT Peatland Initiative over the coming months.

Find out more

Interested in our community-led peatland initiative? Read more here.