The Scottish Wildlife Trust has hit out at Midlothian Council for approving an application to remove millions of cubic metres of peat for compost.
The application from Westland Horticulture Ltd will see extraction take place at Auchencorth Moss, near Penicuik, over the next two decades, just metres away from Auchencorth Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Dr Maggie Keegan, head of policy, Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that the destruction of peat bogs continues to be permitted while millions of pounds are being spent on their restoration elsewhere as part of Scotland’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
“While we accept the moss has suffered damage in the past we believe it is possible to restore it to become an active bog that is rich in wildlife and acts as a carbon sink, helping Scotland meet its obligations to fight climate change.
“Auchencorth Moss accounts for one-fifth of Scotland’s total carbon emissions from peat extraction so refusing this application would have gone a long way to reducing the environmental impact coming from this sector. Peat free composts have been available for many years so there is absolutely no need for this archaic practice to continue.”
The site has been worked commercially since around 1985, with a number of operators owning the site since. The present operators Westland Horticulture Ltd acquired the site in August 2015.
Peat extraction there was granted permission in 1986 and expires in February 2042.
A Midlothian Council spokesman said: “The recent application was to review the conditions attached to the original planning consent. However, this review process places restrictions on the local planning authority and, as a consequence, it cannot restrict working rights such as to prejudice adversely to an unacceptable degree either the economic viability of the operation of the site or the asset value of the site.
“If it did so the council would be liable to pay compensation for loss of income.
“Midlothian Council has managed to secure the restoration of the site to a raised bog rather than to agricultural land as stated in the original planning permission. Furthermore, the applicant is also required to provide financial provision to secure the decommissioning, restoration and aftercare of the site.
“The local planning authority has worked with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure the best possible outcome considering the existing legislation.”
Westland Horticulture was unable to provide a comment.