Current projects

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Seeing the Wood for the Trees; research into areas of natural woodland in the Scottish Highlands. University of the Highlands and Islands/Forestry Commission Scotland. 2015-2019.

Contact: Dr Scott Timpany

Starting in September 2015, a PhD student will be recruited to conduct a detailed study of past woodlands in the Highlands, using pollen data to gather information on how the landscape has changed in response to past climate and management.


Quantifying carbon accumulation and loss in afforested peatlands. University of York/Environmental Research Institute-University of the Highlands and Islands/Forest Research Scotland. 2015-2019

Contact: Dr Richard Payne
Starting in Sept. 2015, a PhD student will be recruited to assess carbon accumulation and loss in the Flow Country peatlands using a combination of traditional forestry techniques, tephrochronology and remote sensing approaches.

Tephra by Joss Ratcliffe

Pattern change in peatlands in response to external pressures such as climate change. University of East London, Environmental Research Institute – University of the Highlands and Islands, University of Exeter, University of Aberdeen, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales. 2015-2019.

Contact: Richard Lindsay 
Major policy initiatives are currently being promoted through the UK devolved governments to encourage restoration of damaged peatland systems as part of climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Evidence for the response of peatland systems to climate change can be seen in the peat archive (which stores the record of peat development over millennia). No evidence has yet been identified which demonstrates this climate feedback response in modern peatland systems, but the potential now exists to do this through a PhD project starting in September 2015. Specific peatlands which have been subject to a set of recognisable external pressures can be identified, and assessed for evidence of pattern change over the past half-century. Recording these changes and external pressures, will provide evidence of peatland response to climate variation.

Pool system Munsary by Roxane Andersen

Rewetting methods to restore forestry sites with cracked peat. Forestry Commission Scotland, 2014-2017.

Contact: Russell Anderson.  


Restoring peatlands for multiple benefits. James Hutton Institute/Environmental Research Insitute-University of the Highlands and Islands. 2014-2018.

Contact: Dr Roxane Andersen, Ainoa Fernandez Pravia (PhD student)

This PhD aims to: 1) Characterise biodiversity assemblages, especially arthropods, found in ‘pristine’ blanket bog, afforested blanket bogs, and blanket bogs restored at different times and with different management approaches 2) Identify species from the arthropod assemblages that are indicative of the status of restored peatlands, and 3) Compare how effectively different management approaches deliver biodiversity and carbon benefits.


Fungal, bacterial and archaeal communities mediating C cycling and trace gas flux in peatland ecosystems subject to climate change. 2014-2016. James Hutton Institute/Environmental research Institute-University of the Highlands and Islands.

Contact: Dr Rebekka Artz or Dr Roxane Andersen

Extensive microbial community profiling is being carried out by ribosomal amplicon-based high throughput sequencing on cores where plant community data, peat chemistry and porewater chemistry (DOC, phenolics, organic acids), water table depth and peat temperature will also be analysed. The objective of the study is to determine the links between short-term environmental variables (e.g., water table depth, current temperature, instantaneous gas flux), longer term environmental variables (climate, pH, plant community, peat C:N, cumulative CO2 and CH4 fluxes) and peatland microbial community structure.
fungi by Roxane Andersen

The Dyke Forest Flux Tower. Environmental Research Institute-University of the Highlands and Islands, James Hutton Institute, RSPB, University of St Andrews, CEH. 2014-2019.

Contact: Dr Roxane Andersen

Restoring peatland is thought to be one of the most cost-effective ways to mitigate GHG emissions. In the case of afforested peatlands such as those in the Flow Country, a key question remains unanswered: how much carbon? In order to get a valid comparison of net fluxes between afforested, open and restored peatlands, it is essential to include above-canopy emissions. This has been made possible with the installation of an Eddy Covariance system which will measure CO2 fluxes sited at the top of a 20m mast within an area of forestry which will remain standing until at least 2017. The fluxes from the “Dyke Forest Tower” will be compared with fluxes from open and restored areas monitored with similar systems.

Setting up the Forest Tower by Roxane Andersen

UV irradiation of aquatic organic carbon: an overlooked source of methane? Edinburgh University.

Contact: Professor Kate Heal, Amy Pickard (PhD student).
Emissions from these systems have typically been attributed to microbial metabolism of organic carbon under anaerobic conditions, methane can be produced in aerobic conditions when terrestrial plant matter is subject to stress. UV irradiation is a known source of plant stress that has been shown to initiate aerobic methane production.The founding hypothesis of this PhD project is that plant-derived material transported from terrestrial environments to aquatic systems will release methane when exposed to UV irradiation.


Causes of decline in the common scoter in the Flow Country inferred from paleoecology. University College London, Natural History Museum and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

Contact: Professor Viv Jones, Hannah Robson (PhD student)
The Flow Country is a key site for common scoters breeding in Britain: numbers of breeding scoters in the UK have been declining by 5% per annum over about the last 30 years, at present ca. 50 pairs remain. Diagnosing the cause(s) of decline and identifying potential conservation management solutions are both critical and urgent and are being explored through this PhD studentship.

Forest to bog restoration in the Flow Country: how does this affect carbon dynamics? RSPB, Environmental Research Institute, University of Stirling, University of St Andrews, University of Edinburgh.

Contacts: Dr Roxane Andersen, Paul Gaffney (PhD student), Dr Jens Arne-Subke , Renee Hermans (PhD student), Dr Tim Hill, Graham Hambley (PhD student), Kathleen Allen (PhD student), Peter Levy (CEH), Matthew Saunders (University of Dublin), Yit-Arn The (University of Aberdeen), Neil Cowie & Mark Hancock (RSPB)

Three inter-linked PhD studentships are evaluating the effect of restoration on carbon balance. Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and CH4) are being measured from a range of restored and control (open and afforested) sites across the RSPB Forsinard Flows reserve, using Eddy Covariance flux towers and static closed chambers. Aquatic carbon concentration and export as well as changes in water quality are measured in the peat water and in streams and drainage ditches from a number of afforested, open and restored micro-catchments in the same areas.

Autosampler for water by Roxane Andersen


Forest to bog restoration in the Flow Country: how does this affect biodiversity? RSPB, ERI/UHI, JHI

An important area of research at Forsinard is measuring the recovery of blanket bog habitats and biodiversity, in areas where inappropriate forestry plantations have been removed for bog restoration.  The recovery of the vegetation and hydrological conditions are being monitored at a series of restoration areas of different ages, dating back to the earliest restorations in 1998.  In the newer restoration areas, a wider suite of outcomes are being measured, including bird and insect recovery, within a management trial that tests four different approaches to restoration management.

Contact: Neil Cowie, Mark Hancock, Trevor Smith, Danni Klein (RSPB), Roxane Andersen (ERI/UHI), Nick Littlewood (JHI), Rebekka Artz (JHI), Ainoa Fernandez Pravia (JHI & ERI/UHI)


The role of natural and artificial pools in northern peatland carbon cycling. University of Leeds, University of Stirling, CEH.

Contact: Dr Ed Turner 
This project investigates the role of pools in carbon cycling within northern peatlands. It aims to understand processes operating in and around pools and the role of natural pipes in mediating these processes. It compares two pool types: natural pools and pools that have been created through peatland restoration by damming of drainage ditches.


Sampling pools by Roxane Andersen

Testing the effect of angling management on trout, invertebrates and ultimately, scoters and other water birds; annual population monitoring of scoters.  RSPB.

Contact: Mark Hancock

Common scoters are large diving ducks that breed on lakes and spend the winter at sea. They were once widespread breeding birds in the British uplands but are now much reduced - only about 50 pairs remain, half of them in the Flow Country. RSPB, along with other partners like the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage, have been researching the needs of this species, to help us develop conservation measures. Our research has found out what scoters need. Now we are testing how we can use these results to improve habitat quality for scoters and other waterbirds.

Project details


The Fire Blanket Project. ERI/UHI, CEH, University of Nottingham, RSPB.

A year-long study to investigate the impact on peatland of Spring 2019's major wildfire event between Melvich and Strathy, northern Sutherland.

Dr Roxane Andersen (Senior Research Fellow, ERI/UHI), who is leading the Project, said: 

"Understanding how land use interacts with climate extremes in peatlands is essential to inform which management practices best maintain and enhance peatland carbon storage. However, this is notoriously challenging to achieve because climate extremes are rare and ephemeral. In addition, their effects can only be truly assessed where high quality, ground-based observations pre-date an extreme event and where data from both impacted and similar control areas can be compared afterwards. All these conditions have come together in the recent Flow Country fire, providing us with a unique opportunity to fill important gaps in knowledge required to improve management of peatlands to minimise fire risk and maximise resilience".

Contact: Dr Roxane Andersen