For some years now we have been hanging out with people in and around some of Scotland’s many peatbogs. We did so in order to find out why some people care for places that don’t seem to have much to offer in terms of spectacular scenery or wildlife. Peatbogs, which are a type of bog covering about a fifth of Scotland, are indeed mostly regarded as dreary and wet places where the likelihood of getting lost, stuck or losing a boot is considerable. However, experts have for several years been saying that peatbogs are very important in terms of biodiversity, flood regulation and storing carbon in their soils and that we should therefore do more to protect and restore peatbogs. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that telling people something is important doesn’t automatically make them care for it.
In order to find out why some people actually do care for peatbogs despite their negative image we conducted workshops, interviewed people involved in peatbog restoration and took part in volunteering activities in peatbogs. Our results showed that personal experiences are key in learning to love peatbogs and that engaging in restoration enables people to get to know peatbogs. Especially near cities, peatbogs are often the only wildish places that are left and are therefore important as places where adults and children can come to know nature and find a breathing space from daily life as well as serving as reminders of what the land looked like in the past. Our study therefore highlights the importance of creating opportunities for people to interact with peatbogs. However, at the same time our results also showed that it can be tricky to find the right balance between on the one hand promoting people’s use of peatbogs while on the other protecting peatbogs from negative impacts of human use. The study therefore also points to difficult questions about how we should care for peatbogs. In addition, it points towards the need to overcome barriers to restoration by providing resources, access, and opportunities for both lay people and experts to try out different approaches and learn from each other and the peatbogs.