High Peak Moorland restoration in action

Sphagnum planting come rain or shine

Moorlife 2020 is a 5 year project funded by the EU LIFE programme, Severn Trent Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities. Discover more about how our teams of rangers and volunteers have played a vital role in restoring the High Peak moorlands for the benefit of nature and for people..

The MoorLIFE ambition

Keeping bogs 'boggy' - this might sound like a simple task but there's a combination of key factors in restoring, maintaining and enhancing a healthy and active 'blanket bog.' Blanket bog (referring to it's structure) can be found on the moors and is predominantly made of peat; the black stuff you would associate with Black Hill, Bleaklow and Kinder Scout in the Peak District. You might of heard a lot about how important blanket bogs are. The UK has 13% of the whole world’s blanket bogs  - so requires a whole host of different organisations and people to look after them.

Cutting heather, rather than burning, and establishing Sphagnum should create the right conditions for a more diverse range of moorland plants to return whilst also keeping the blanket bog wet enough to form peat.
Cutting heather, rather than burning, and establishing Sphagnum should create the right conditions for a more diverse range of moorland plants to return whilst also keeping the blanket bog wet enough to form peat.
Cutting heather, rather than burning, and establishing Sphagnum should create the right conditions for a more diverse range of moorland plants to return whilst also keeping the blanket bog wet enough to form peat.

The MoorLIFE2020 project is being delivered by the Moors for the Future Partnership and we are playing a key part in making this project happen across the High Peak Moors and National Trust Marsden Moor  as part of our High Peak Moors Vision. Most of the funding for MoorLIFE2020 has come from the European Union’s LIFE fund which supports environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout Europe. It’s good to know that the Partnership, hosted by the Peak District National Park Authority, is also supported by three major utility companies: Severn Trent Water, United Utilities and Yorkshire Water, who have each made significant contributions to the project’s €16 million total.

When moorlands are able to store more water like this, it helps to slow the water flow down to our villages, town and cities.
When moorlands are able to store more water like this, it helps to slow the water flow down to our villages, town and cities.
When moorlands are able to store more water like this, it helps to slow the water flow down to our villages, town and cities.

In a nutshell - the long term ambitions of the MoorLIFE 2020 project aims to prevent carbon escaping from bare peat soil into the atmosphere and to stop water rushing off the moors at pace, flooding rivers and taking soil along with it. Simulataneoulsy, this will help to create better habitat conditions on the moorlands for a variety of wildlife and plantlife to thrive.

Monitoring areas where sphagnum is doing well on the moors
Monitoring areas where sphagnum is doing well on the moors
Monitoring areas where sphagnum is doing well on the moors

The science behind the process

Blanket bogs are a key champion in tackling climate change and offers a natural solution when it comes to dramatically reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We normally think of trees for this job, but peat is a massive game changer when it comes to absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. But how? It’s all about the peat. Sphagnum moss and other bog loving plants slowly decompose in the acidic, waterlogged conditions. Just as leaves rot down to make soil in a woodland, layer upon layer of bog plants build up to form peat. This takes a long time; 100 years or more to form just one meter. The peat and plants like sphagnum then help us tackle climate change by capturing and storing carbon.

Sphagnum moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water! It’s a key component of peat and grows very slowly
Sphagnum moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water! It’s a key component of peat and grows very slowly.
Sphagnum moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water! It’s a key component of peat and grows very slowly

When peat is wet and the process of decomposition is slow, carbon is absorbed and trapped. When peat is dry, carbon can leach out. Which is why wetter is better! The wetter the bog the better the peat formation rate, and its ability to hold carbon. Which is why our teams of rangers and volunteers build gully blocks; slowing down the rate in which the water leaves the moors along streams, holding water back which raises the water level on the bogs, which keeps the peat wet and helps to prevent the soil rushing off into the drinking reservoirs in the valleys below, saving both energy and costs of cleaning and filtering.

Gully blocking helps the moorland to hold back more water which raises the water level on the bogs, which keeps the peat wet.
Gully blocking helps the moorland to hold back more water which raises the water level on the bogs, which keeps the peat wet.
Gully blocking helps the moorland to hold back more water which raises the water level on the bogs, which keeps the peat wet.

On heather dominated moorland, areas are broken up by creating a patchwork of cuts, done by a low ground pressure machine. These cuts are then planted up with sphagnum plugs (1,150 per hectare), which helps in the peat formation process and allows the moorlands to store more water. Sphagnum moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. It’s a key component of peat and grows very slowly - some sphagnum species grow only millimetres a year, making it equally as precious as peat. There are around 380 species of sphagnum moss which vary in colour from the 80’s fluorescent leg warmer green, burnt orange, pink and red. Sphagnum moss is mildly antiseptic and during the first and second world wars it was commonly used in wound dressings.

In areas dominated by heather, cuts are made using specialist low impact machinery and then planted up with sphagnum to increase diversity and making more peat soil
In areas dominated by heather, cuts are made using specialist low impact machinery and then planted up with sphagnum to increase diversity and making more peat soil
In areas dominated by heather, cuts are made using specialist low impact machinery and then planted up with sphagnum to increase diversity and making more peat soil

Nature and people need bogs

Bogs have low levels of nutrients, so plants that live there are very specialised. They include cotton grass that blankets the landscape in a fluffy white coat in spring. Purple heather and crossed leaved heath that bring radiant colour to the Peak District moors in summer and it’s also home to some of nature’s magical plants including the insect eating sundew and yellow flowering bog asphodel. Rare wading birds such as snipe and curlew use the moors to feed and raise their young, as do majestic hen harriers and long-eared owls. Mountain hares populate the moors, turning white in winter to mimic the snow, and bees, butterflies, beetles, moths and dragonflies busy themselves feeding on the specialist feast offered by this treasured environment.  

A bog also holds onto water and only releases small amounts at a time compared to say, a rocky mountain or rolling grassland. This reduces the risk of flooding further downhill, and of course, that’s where we tend to have our villages, towns and cities. With climate change predictions indicating wetter seasons, natural flood defences are growing in importance and bogs play a key part in storing water. Bogs help to clean water too – 70% of the UK drinking water comes from our peat dominated uplands, so the better the bog, the better the condition of the water arriving to the water companies and then to your taps!   

So the next time someone says 'oh it's just a bog,' this is just not true, a bog is so much more....