Conservation at Marsden Moor

Moorland sunset view with pueple heather in the foreground

We're working hard to reverse the damage caused by more than 200 years of industrial pollution, wildfires and historic overgrazing that stripped plant life from large areas of peatland in the Peak District and South Pennines.

The work our rangers and volunteers carry out increases biodiversity, improves habitats for wildlife and reduces peat erosion. Our work also helps re-wet the moorland, turning it back into a sponge that can release water slowly into the moors. This reduces flood risk in the valleys below, reduces fire risk and helps capture carbon. 

Moorland restoration work is carried out during the winter months (September - March) outside of nesting season. Work on the open moors stops in March until August to allow birds and wildlife to breed without too much disturbance. Marsden Moor is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and a special area of conservation (SAC) for breeding birds and blanket bog habitat. 

During the spring and summer months our work is focussed on access improvements, repairs to boundary fences, footpaths and stiles and helping out at our sister properties East Riddlesden Hall and Hardcastle Crags.

Building wooden dams helps water soak into the moors
Two volunteers build a wooden dam on a sunny day on top of Marsden Moor
Building wooden dams helps water soak into the moors


Moorland restoration techniques

Brash spreading
Several volunteers with tool spread brash against  vast moorland backdrop
Brash spreading

Stabilising bare peat

When peat is exposed, it releases carbon into the atmosphere and causes silt to run off into our streams and rivers. It’s also more likely to burn during moorland fires. We spread heather brash to protect the peat and provide a source of seeds. We apply lime to reduce acidity and spread grass seeds and fertiliser that will form an initial crop of grass. Planting things like cotton grass and sphagnum moss can also help restore the peat. Healthy peat can store up to 30-70kg of carbon per cubic metre, making it a vital tool in the fight against climate change. 

Planting sphagnum moss helps us re-wet the moorlands
A ranger kneels down to plant sphagnum moss on Marsden Moor
Planting sphagnum moss helps us re-wet the moorlands

Re-wetting and reducing fire risk

As well as helping to restore peat, much of our re-wetting work also helps us reduce the risk of fire. Our rangers and volunteers have created hundreds of leaky dams on Marsden Moor, which helps rainfall soak into the moors gradually. We also plant sphagnum moss, which can hold ten times its own weight in water. We also use peat dams on the tops of the moors to create small pools in flatter areas. To try and halt the spread of fire, we use machinery to cut vegetation breaks, as well as more traditional conservation grazing. Find out more about why we don't use controlled burning on Marsden Moor.  Find out more about why we don’t use controlled burning on Marsden Moor. 

We use special equipment to cut vegetation breaks
A small tractor-like robot cuts the grass above Marsden Moor
We use special equipment to cut vegetation breaks
Volunteers construct timber dams
A team of volunteers install timber dams against a moorland backdrop
Volunteers construct timber dams

Reducing flood risk

Our re-wetting work also helps us reduce flooding by turning the moors back into a sponge. Rather than water running straight off the hill, sphagnum and our leaky dams give it time to soak in. This also helps reduce the amount of silt that ends up in the reservoirs that are used for drinking water. We’re working closely with partners like Yorkshire Water and Kirklees Council to improve our natural flood management. Find out more about the work we’re doing across West Yorkshire. 

This work is being carefully studied and recorded by our survey group, as well as academics from the University of Leeds.

Cotton grass
Close up image of cotton grass
Cotton grass

Increasing biodiversity

We increase diversity by planting plugs of native species like cotton grass, heather, crowberry and bilberry. This attracts a bigger range of insects, which in turn benefits our rare bird population. 

Belted Galloway cattle, a traditional breed used for conservation grazing
Distance photo of grazing belted galloway cattle
Belted Galloway cattle, a traditional breed used for conservation grazing

Invasive species

We control invasive plants where we can, including purple-moor grass and rhododendron, to ensure the SSSI's we work on are in good condition. Grazing in parts of the moors also helps with this work.

Video

Removing rhododendron on Marsden Moor

We've been working with our partners Moors for the Future to remove invasive rhododendron in the Wessenden Valley. Find out how this work will benefit bio-diversity and reduce flood risk on Marsden Moor.

Repairing a section of the Pennine Way with stone flags
A group of volunteers lower a stone flag into place druing footpath repairs
Repairing a section of the Pennine Way with stone flags

Path management

We refurbish footpaths to protect against the effects of erosion by foot traffic. We lay flagstones over boggy sections and add drainage features so that paths and the surrounding peat isn't washed away in wet periods.

Two men take measurements from a dipwell against a moorland backdrop

Marsden Moor Survey Group

Find out more about the valuable work of our survey group, who count everything from plants to birds on the moors.