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Gallery - Peats

Although once the primary local source of domestic fuel, cut peat now represents around 2.75% of Western Isles energy consumption, contributing around 25GWh of energy (1). It is often used in both open fires and solid fuel stoves as a supplement to other solid fuels to bring down costs. For some this aspect is very important, but going to the peats is also valued social tradition, bringing familes and villages together, for the work of cutting and later taking the dried peats home.

Undoutedly over centuries the practice has changed the surface of moor, and cuttings are visible along roadsides across much of the island. In some places ancient lichens on the top surfaces of boulders and outcrops indicate the often much higher, original surface level of the peat.

However, as an investment for the future great care is taken to minimise damage during the process.  Turf taken from the top edge of the bank to be cut is carefully laid over the exposed peat strip left at the bottom of the bank from the previous years cutting.  This also maintains a firm working suface at the bottom of the bank. The banks and tracks are carefully designed so that the tracks follow firm ground and do not interfere with watercourses and make bogs in which livestock could drown. A recent study of the Lewis peatlands by Richard Lindsay, an internationally renowned peatland expert, commissioned by RSPB reported on this good practice:

"One further point worth making now, although it will be referred to again later, is that the domestic peat cuttings so widespread along the roadsides in Lewis, also generally have a good vegetation cover. In many cases this vegetation is clearly forming peat. It is quite unusual to find a peat bank where there is extensive bare peat. In part, this is probably due to the practice of laying the top-spit of living vegetation down onto the cut surface as part of the peat-cutting practice. It is therefore unwise to regard these old peat-cuttings as degraded habitat in need of major intervention." (2)

However, on the Barvas Moor, Lewis Wind Power propose to dispose of thousands of tonnes of peat spoil created during construction of the windfarm by in-filling old peat cuttings. Lindsay has questioned both the need and outcome of this venture:

"The assumption behind the restoration process for the peat cuttings is that these areas need assistance to return to ‘active blanket bog’ and cannot do so without the replacement of peat that has been removed...In fact these old cuttings are generally in an advanced state of regeneration and many support what can be classed as an ‘active bog vegetation’...Replacement of this actively-growing community with a series of translocated peat blocks that may, or may not, eventually develop a community as active as the one replaced, appears to be an action with little environmental merit and indeed may do positive harm."

AT THE PEATS_jpeg.jpg
Peat cutting, Barvas Moor

Peat Bank

Peat bank with cut peats laid

Close up of a peat bank

Cut peats


Bridge over soft ground


Bagging and loading peats to take home


Peat bank showing replaced turfs


Peat stack with baby bird

Peat fire


1) Western Isles Energy Audit 2004
2) Comments on Lewis Wind Power 2006 Addendum to the Enviromental Statement, R. Lindsay, Head of Wildlife Conservation, University of East London (January 2007): http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/lewis/index.asp

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