Groundbreaking peatland satellite project could see Scotland offset four years of carbon emissions

Scotland could offset more than four years of carbon emissions after an ambitious project overseen by an Edinburgh tech company netted government funding.

Murray Collins Ed Mitchard of Edinburgh tech company Space Intelligence, which is using groundbreaking science to measure peatland in detail for the first time.
Murray Collins Ed Mitchard of Edinburgh tech company Space Intelligence, which is using groundbreaking science to measure peatland in detail for the first time.

Capital firm Space Intelligence is using groundbreaking science to measure peatland in detail for the first time. By analysing the latest satellite data and combining these with field data bosses plan to identify which areas can be restored cost-effectively.

The project is a feasibility study for an international roll-out of the technology, which could see the Scots firm developing a global climate impact.

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The Scottish Government estimates that restoring all 600,000 hectares of degraded Scottish peatlands would prevent some 180 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2050 – more than four years of all Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions at last year’s levels.

The company’s chief scientific officer, Ed Mitchard, 34, who is the University of Edinburgh’s youngest ever professor, said the project will create detailed maps to kick-start peatland restoration in Scotland and then the rest of the UK.

“We believe useful data on peat is contained in the wealth of satellite data being collected every day, but currently not used for this purpose,” Mitchard said.

“Peat soils contain around a third of the carbon locked up on the Earth’s surface, but take up less than 3 per cent of land cover globally, so protecting and restoring them will have an outsized impact on the climate.

“Looked at another way, if we do not protect and restore peatland, we have no hope of preventing dangerous climate change.”

The firm is working with NatureScot, the government body tasked with improving Scotland’s natural environments.

Space Intelligence chief executive Murray Collins said: “Peatland covers 10 per cent of UK land but 80 per cent of it is already degraded because of the impact of drainage ditches and agriculture.

“Surprisingly little is known about where the most damaged peatlands are – when they’re damaged they release their carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating our climate crisis.

“The team is very excited to be developing this cutting edge project, we’re applying advanced satellite analysis to land management and the result is a huge step forward in tackling the climate crisis.

“We are also inspired by the opportunity to take a leading role in ensuring a green recovery from Covid-19, creating high-quality jobs as part of the UK’s bounceback.”

The firm has won £60,000 from the Small Business Research Initiative. The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and delivered by Innovate UK. The goal is to identify the peatland in a bad state which can be restored most cost-effectively.

Innovate UK executive chair Ian Campbell said: “In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy.

“Space Intelligence’s peatland analysis project, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”

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