Anne McAlpine discovers the power of peat in new documentary series

From the boreal peatlands of Canada, to the expansive peat plains of Finland and the beautiful blanket bogs of home – Anne McAlpine takes us on a journey exploring spectacular peatlands around the world. 

The BBC ALBA documentary series takes us to Iron Age bog bodies, remarkable pool systems, shielings which built communities on the moor, and bogs which cover stone walls older than the Pyramids.

Anne also discovers how peatlands, which cover just 3% of the planet yet hold more carbon than all the forests combined, are an important ally in the fight against climate change. 

But to keep our peatlands from leaking out all the carbon they hold, we need to look after them.

In her home island of Lewis, Anne joins local Danny Mackay as he makes the finishing touches to a peat stack to learn about how small-scale use of peat has long heated homes in the Highlands and beyond.

We also hear from a peat producer in Finland, where times are changing amidst environmental concerns, to learn about the use of peat on a commercial-scale.

Anne meets Professor of Conflict History and Archaeology, Tony Pollard, of the University of Glasgow, who has been exploring Scotland’s many battles. 

He relays how Robert the Bruce’s boggy battle tactics proved decisive.

When speaking about the battle of Loudoun Hill, he said: ‘What Robert the Bruce cleverly does, is he would come to the battlefield early, and work out how he could turn the terrain to his advantage.

‘Horses are not going to be able to operate over those bogs. To limit the space even more, Robert the Bruce and his men dug three ditches, creating choke points and bottlenecks.

‘The English cavalry could only pass through 500 at a time. At that point, Robert the Bruce’s Scottish army, with their spears, come in and basically cut them to pieces.’

‘In Scotland, peat is behind some of our most iconic scents, tastes and sights,’ Anne said.

‘Growing up in the Western Isles, peat played a central role in community life. 

‘Many islanders will have memories of summers spent cutting peat with family, friends and neighbours and will recognise the inviting smell of a peat fire keeping houses warm through the winter.

‘This series really opened my eyes to the importance of keeping our peatlands healthy. From preserving Roman artefacts to having a pivotal role in storing carbon, it’s been fascinating to learn about the power of the humble peat in combating climate change.’

The Secrets in the Peat series begins on BBC ALBA on Wednesday 20 September at 9pm.

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Plus, don’t miss the October issue of Scottish Field magazine.