The many benefits of peatland restoration, and why landowners invest in it
Peatland preservation is a topic that we often discuss on these pages; after all, although it may currently be a fashionable topic with those jumping on the wilding bandwagon, it is something that grouse moor managers and owners have been focusing on for decades.
The Daily Telegraph warned recently that due to climate change, many of the buried treasures which have been submerged and preserved in peat for thousands of years could never re-emerge. Peat is well-known for hiding archaeological treasures within it, whether that’s ‘bog bodies’ or artefacts such as weaponry and early craftmanship, dating back to the Mesolithic era. This is because the layers of sphagnum moss within the peat prevent oxygen from reaching whatever may be buried within in – meaning these items tend to remain well-preserved as fungi and bacteria can’t thrive.
The climate change reasoning comes from the fact that peat bogs are vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment and weather. The drying out or draining of peat bogs – which was encouraged by the government from the 1950s to the 80s in an attempt to make the uplands more agriculturally viable and to make the UK more self-sufficient in the post-war years – similarly affects both peat and the things within it, which is why so many landowners have been trying to make up for the draining of the past. In addition to it being drained, peat has also been dug up and planted with forestry – something that could happen again if people blindly follow the fashion for tree planting.
Over the last few decades, many grouse moor owners have worked hard to blocked up the drainage ditches (or grips), thereby rewetting the landscape. While some may blame grouse moors for drying out peat, a healthy, damp peat bog can be beneficial for grouse, as their chicks feed on insects emerging from these wet areas. It has been estimated that in total, around 24,000 hectares of moorland habitat on grouse moors has been restored in this way across northern England, and similar projects are happening in Scotland, as well.
In the North Pennines, nine privately owned moorland estates have worked together to restore nearly 1000 hectares of peatland. As well as reprofiling eroded areas of peat and blocking drains, the estates have brought in sphagnum moss heather brash in order to restore vegetation
In Middlesmoor, Yorkshire, a £1.5m restoration project involving a collaboration between the moor owners and the Yorkshire Peat Partnership has provided valuable protection for the local peatland and its ability to combat climate change. The development spans 1,414 hectares, equivalent to 1,724 football pitches, and involves grip blocking and Sphagnum moss introduction, which will provide the peat with long-term stability and re-start the carbon sequestering process.
All of this work, which has been privately funded by upland landowners, will be beneficial for so many reasons; a healthy and wet bog can play a vital role in flood prevention, as well as being an important carbon store and, in some cases, hiding and preserving archaeological finds which could be of huge importance to historians. At the moment in the North Yorkshire Moors, heather is being baled up to create dams which will benefit the hydrology and water quality of the area, improving insect life and, in its turn, helping the ground nesting birds who feed on them.