Restoring our precious peatlands

Phil Pickin

It’s a little known fact that peatland covers some 12% of the UK. That might sound a lot, but something like 80% has been lost or degraded and this has had a significant impact on us all. Despite the fact that peatland can seem featureless and rather flat, it provides us with a vital service: even our current peatlands store something like 3 billion tonnes of carbon. If we can restore the lost 80%, the same amount again could be stored each year!

These large areas of wet and boggy land also act as sponges, soaking up excess water and helping to reduce flooding, thereby saving money and lengthy repairs when flooding occurs. All this water also provides an ideal habitat for a wide range of plants and animals, and for walkers who don’t always want to scale hills, they provide accessible and level walks.

Wem MossAt a conference in September of this year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) launched the 2020 Million Hectare Challenge, aimed at encouraging partners to restore another million hectares of peatland over the next seven years. Wildlife Trusts across the UK have got involved with projects in their local areas, so if you want to find out what’s happening closer to home it’s worth getting in touch with your local trust.

This is something I did when I met up with John Hughes, Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s Development Manager, at an important peatland area in north Shropshire, close to the town of Wem. Wem Moss, at just 28 hectares, is just a small part of the larger 950 hectare Fenns/Whixhall Moss National Nature Reserve, but it provides an ideal example of both the problem and the importance of these areas and what we, as countryside users, can do and look out for in this type of environment.

The Wem moss, like other mosses, can look like abandoned scrub land, but in actual fact these areas are teeming with life. They are also among the most fragile habitats you can find. As John pointed out, "something as innocent as nitrogen-rich rain can devastate some of the plant life." 

Wem MossFragrant plants such as Bog myrtle and butterfly magnets like Alder buckthorn grow alongside carnivorous plants like Sundews in this type of habitat. Spiders and snakes make these areas of particular interest to children, but you need to look and tread carefully. Although walks in these areas are not as challenging as hill or upland walks the terrain can be rough and, by it's very nature, wet. 

If you want something different and want to enjoy a whole new range of wildlife, the meres, mosses and peatlands of the country are well worth seeking out. By enjoying these precious areas and supporting your local Wildlife Trust, you’ll be helping to look after these vital areas of our countryside.

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