Most of the peatlands of the world are found in the cool, moist climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Caithness and Sutherland provide the ideal balance of conditions for peat accumulation. The climate is warm and wet enough to allow the rapid growth of the bog plants tolerant of waterlogging. At the same time, temperatures are cool and suppress decomposition and the sodden bog preserves the organic material that sustains it.

Sphagnum moss is the chief bog former. This plant has a prodigious capacity to hold water. It also produces organic acids that help to pickle organic remains. Sphagnum absorbs and retains nutrients that arrive in the bog in rainwater and surface water.

Blanket peat has two layers, the acrotelm and catotelm. The acrotelm is the upper layer of blanket peat, standing above the water table for most of the year. It is aerated, allowing oxidation of the dead organic material. This decomposition is only partial, leading to humification of the plat debris and leaves, wood and seeds remain recognisable.

The catotelm layer lies below the water table. Oxygen levels are low due to saturation and slow circulation of groundwater. There is little decomposition here and this is where the peat slowly accumulates.

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