Peak District peat bogs restoration leads a ‘green revolution’

Sphagnum moss trial planting at Nether Hey, above Howden Reservoir: Richard Vink with some of the 'slime' gel used to coat moss pellets. Photo: David Bocking.

The bogs of the Peak District moors are changing, thanks to a ‘green revolution’ led by scientists from the Moors for the Future Partnership trying to restore miles of peat polluted by the industrial revolution.

“What we’re doing is species diversification,” said Richard Vink, National Trust project officer for the peat restoration work, part of the Moors for the Future team.

Kirsty Rogers from the National Trust planting a mass plug in a damp patch of ground in an area of mown heather. Photo: David Bocking.

“It’s about restoring the balance of nature on the moors into a good diverse habitat that supports wildlife, and encouraging peat to do what healthy peat does: sequester carbon, help provide clean water to the people below, and reduce flooding. It’s all linked.”

The key is sphagnum moss, which acts like a ‘wet flannel’ to hold rainwater on the landscape, said ecologist Chris Wood, who explained that teams of volunteers and staff have been trialling different ways to regrow sphagnum moss on the polluted moors of the Dark Peak.

They use a special green sphagnum slime sprayed onto eroded peat, or coat the slime on pebble-like pellets containing moss and other plants like cotton grass, or plant tiny moss plugs, all grown in a lab from original Peak varieties.

It’s hoped a combination of these methods will eventually help return the moors to something like their condition of 8,000 years ago.

Kait Jones (left) and Helen Tuck from the National Trust with moss plugs. Photo: David Bocking.

Richard’s team help the moss grow by cutting stretches of heather with a special flail, which also creates gaps in the bushy heather so emergency teams have more time to extinguish moorland fires.

Burning is a traditional method of managing heather for grouse, who eat tips of young heather bushes.

The project is also building thousands of small dams to help hold more rain on the moors: wetter moorland keeps heather in check, as well as reducing fire risk.

The trials are part of a MoorLIFE 2020 EU grant, which will show conservationists how best to dampen the moorland back to how it was before the industrial revolution.

Richard Vink from the National Trust checking a moss 'plug'. Photo: David Bocking.

“Around the world there’s a significant amount of effort and funding going into trying to restore a healthy natural environment, and to be able to do that on your own doorstep fills a lot of us with great heart,” said Ted Talbot, National Trust countryside manager for the Peak District.

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