How the moors came to be

This landscape contains a lot of history © Joe Cornish

This landscape contains a lot of history

For five thousand years peat has been forming below a thin layer of grasses, sedges, rushes and mosses.

This vegetation cover can easily be damaged by overgrazing or completely removed by fire and then the peat is exposed. This bare peat is quickly eroded and will not regenerate without help.

Fences have been erected around sensitive areas to exclude grazing animals. Then heather brash or seed is spread on the bare peat. Plug plants, including cotton grass, bilberry and heather are also planted on to some areas of bare peat. You are welcome to enter these fenced areas at the stiles provided and see for yourself the progress of the revegetation.

Three hundred million years ago this area was part of a vast delta

The water carried particles from eroded rocks to the north. Sand settled from shallow slow-moving water and mud from deeper water. Plants and animals died, were covered and fossilised.

As the deposits accumulated, compression and heat transformed them into layers of sandstone and shale. For the next few hundred years, the rocks were eroded by ice and water. Ten thousand years ago, after the last Ice Age, forests of Pine, Oak and Birch covered the area. Tree stumps can still be found preserved in the peat.

About seven thousand years ago, the climate became cooler and wetter, the trees died, peat started to accumulate and it now covers most of the moor in a thick
blanket. The moor is a mosaic of habitats from moires to dry grassland, each with its own species adapted to the particular conditions.

This variety of habitats is essential to the support of several species of bird which breed on the moor, some of which are of international importance.

In the last few hundred years, pollution, overgrazing and fire have damaged the moor by reducing the number of plant species and exposing areas of peat which rapidly erode. This bare peat does not easily regenerate the plants that once grew there. Here the National Trust must intervene by fencing off areas and reseeding with heather or grasses.

A survey of the present condition of the moor is underway so that in years to come it will be possible to determine how the moor is changing.