North Pennines’ bare peat is transformed
Damaged moorland has been transformed into a moss-covered landscape thanks to a pioneering new technique that aims to reverse the fortunes of the North Pennines’ eroding peat bogs.
The UK’s rainforest
Healthy peatlands play a large part in the quality of our habitat. They are often referred to as the UK’s rainforest and provide many ecosystem services, which include carbon capture, clean water, reduced flooding and supporting the local economy.
Bare peat, however, has a damaging impact on the environment. Years of erosion, caused by wildfires, historic overgrazing, and human disturbances, has resulted in greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere which adds to the ever-growing problem of climate change.
Only the beginning
In a bid to stop further deterioration, and to reinvigorate the landscape, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership’s Peatland Programme has begun to restore 117 hectares of bare peat. This is only the start of a programme which aims to restore 3,000 hectares of blanket bog.
The project began with a survey of all the peatlands in the North Pennines, which is home to 27 per cent of England’s blanket bog. Sites were prioritised and the technique, which is unique to the AONB Partnership’s Peatland Programme team, began last year.
A five-step process
The team, which is based in Stanhope, developed a five-step process that includes a combination approach which is an amalgamation of methods used in Canada, a country that is home to more than a third of the world’s peatlands, alongside other techniques already used in the UK such as the spreading of Sphagnum moss.
Alistair Lockett, Peatland Conservation Assistant with the AONB Partnership, said: “The aim was to get bare peat revegetated with Sphagnum moss, cotton grass, heather and other blanket bog species.
“Bursting with life”
“This, used alongside other steps, such as fencing off the land to protect it from grazing, and altering the hydrology, has worked better than we expected in such a short time span. It’s an unprecedented success and to see the before and after photographs, showing huge patches of bare eroding peat that is now lush and green and bursting with life, is just amazing.”
The success of the project has been so well-received the AONB Partnership’s Peatland Programme has had visitors from other projects from the UK which have similar problems to those experienced in the North Pennines.
Alistair continued: “To know we’re leading the way, and have become an example of what you can achieve with the right approach, makes going out onto those hills in all weathers worthwhile.”
Sites in Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland have all benefitted from the project but more work needs to be done.
Reverse the damage
Alistair said: “This is just the start of a long process. Overall in the North Pennines we have 3,000 hectares of bare peat that is damaging our environment. Our plan is to reverse that process as soon as we can.”
However, peat restoration is a costly job and the money for this work ultimately comes from grant funding. This first round of work was made possible thanks to a £1m grant from Biffa Award. The Peatland Programme team has now submitted a multi-million pound bid to carry out restoration of a further 600 hectares over the next five years.
Peatland Programme manager, Paul Leadbitter, said: “Funding is crucial for us, without it we simply couldn’t carry out this work. Biffa Award has been a great supporter of what we do here at the Partnership and also recognises the importance of restoring this hugely important landscape. The work done so far proves what can be achieved but we need more funding to keep going with this.
Working for future generations
“Don’t underestimate the role both eroding and healthy peatland play in our lives. We need to turn around the damage that’s already been done and prevent more from happening; if we don’t it will have massively detrimental implications on our environment. Not just in our lifetimes but for generations to come.”
Released: 06 January 2015