For peat’s sake

There is one part of the UK’s diverse range of habitats that seem to have the ability to do more for us than just about any other. However, peatlands are also probably the most overlooked and damaged of all despite it’s ability to alleviate flooding, store carbon and improve water - all while providing habitat for a wide range of wildlife.

Despite the emphasis being on restoration for habitat and environmental benefits they also provide great walking areas with a diverse ecology that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.

With the ongoing pressure on land use it’s not surprising that what could be seen as just ‘waterlogged land’ continues to be drained, but despite peatlands only covering some 12% of land it stores over three billion tonnes of carbon and could store a similar amount each year if restored. And if you’ve ever looked at the water coming off areas like this you’ll see that it’s generally clean - not that a great deal of water runs off this type of terrain. With it’s sponge like abilities, rainwater is stored and only released very slowly, making it ideal to naturally reduce the risks of flooding.

Across the country there are many restoration and conservation initiatives underway, including the Yorkshire Peat Partnership which includes the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and the North York Moors National Park. This huge area of around 70,000 hectares of peat soil has the potential to capture sizeable amounts of carbon while supporting a diverse range of species.

In Wales The Pumlumon Project, a science based project, covers the Welsh upland Cambiran Mountains. Further north is Boarder Mires adjacent to the Kielder Forest, an area that is rich in dragonflies, newts, moths as well as birds and grasses. In the North West, Cadishead and Little Woolden Moss are also areas that support many different species including, as you might expect, lizards and toads amongst many others.

Cumbria has a number of mosses including two coastal areas. Foulshaw, Witherslack, Meathop, Nichols and Drumburgh Moss not only have some of the best names for mosses, but some also provide homes for species as diverse as owls, ospreys and dragonflies.

In Shropshire the Wem Moss sits within the Meres and Mosses Nature Improvement Area, which includes the Whixhall Moss Nature Reserve. This area has, as with other areas, undergone significant restoration work, some of which provides trails for walkers.

As you might expect the Fens has it’s own project known as The Great Fen Project which covers some 37,000 hectares around the NNR’s. Somerset also has a ‘great fen’ this time the Great Catcott Fen which is said to be one of the rarest types as it’s an alkaline fen. 

Scotland too boasts a number of areas and with it a number of restoration projects covering areas such as Red Moss of Nethelly, Red Moss of Balerno and (aptly at the end of this list) Tailend Moss!

Many of these projects are collaborations between local Wildlife Trusts and a wide range of other organisations, charities and government bodies and all are aimed at not only looking after these areas but restoring them too, as the benefits to the wider world are significant. One such partnership is the Moors for the Future who are “dedicated to preserving 8,000 years of our moorland heritage”. As their pledge suggests, they are looking at more than just the natural world and cover the moors of the Peak District and South Pennines. The Moors for the Future Partnership has three objectives which are; to raise awareness of why the blanket bogs are valuable, and to encourage responsible use and care of the landscape, to restore and conserve important recreational and natural moorland resources, and finally to develop expertise on how to protect and manage blanket bog and other moorland habitats sustainably.

When asked about how walkers can enjoy this type or habitat without damaging it Peak District National Park Authority said, “Walkers may have witnessed the visual transformation of areas such as Kinder Scout, Black Hill and Bleaklow, from places with large barren areas of bare peat to places with thriving vegetation. You have probably linked healthier vegetation to improved habitat for wildlife like the short-eared owl, dunlin and mountain hare. What a lot of people don’t realise is that alongside obvious improved health of vegetation on the moors, healthier bogs also provide cleaner drinking water, reduce the risk of flooding downstream, and capture carbon – helping to tackle climate change. Blanket bogs also provide a beautiful place to find space and peace.”  

They went on to say that, “Alongside this work we also improve footpaths, plant native broadleaved woodland in steep upland valleys known as cloughs, and undertake scientific monitoring and research work to document the impacts of our work. The main challenge for hillwalkers is finding a balance between enjoying the outdoors and protecting fragile blanket bog habitat. These two imperatives can clash but by sticking to a few common sense rules of thumb walkers can do their bit to safeguard the future of the hills.”   

The Authority suggest the best thing that hillwalkers can do is to be aware of the potential damage they can cause to the delicate blanket bog ecosystem and take steps to avoid this. Simply keeping to footpaths and keeping dogs on a lead will go a long way towards preventing erosion and helping to protect birds which nest on the ground, such as curlew, golden plover and dunlin. If you choose to wild camp, with the landowner’s permission, take out everything you brought in. One of the biggest threats to blanket bog is wildfire, which is most often caused by human activity. We implore people to avoid lighting fires or barbeques and be extra careful to extinguish cigarettes carefully, and dispose of them responsibly.  

They also suggest that if you’d like to be actively involved in their work, there are fascinating opportunities to volunteer through our Community Science project, to track changes in upland wildlife, enabling us to build up a picture of how climate change and other factors are affecting them. From spotting moorland animals to detailed environmental monitoring, volunteers can contribute valuable data to help build a picture of the changing fortunes of the Peak District and South Pennines.  

This is just one example of how these important areas are being protected and the work that is going into safeguarding these unique habitats.