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Restoration of Purbeck’s precious peatland

Blue mechanical digger building a dam on peatland.
Peatland restoration at Greenlands Mire | © Gen Crisford

Work is underway to rewet and restore important peatland habitats on National Trust land in Purbeck.

The first phases of work took place on Greenlands Mire and Agglestone Mire on Godlingston Heath, Studland.

Peat is formed when mosses and other plants decompose in wet, acidic mires and bogs. Healthy peatlands are England's largest land-based carbon store, yet over the centuries most of them have been drained for agriculture and forestry or dug out for fuel.

The restoration work involves blocking old drainage ditches with peat dams, heather bales or timber. These ‘leaky dams’ hold the water back, causing water to flow across the mire rather than down artificial channels.

David Brown, our lead ecologist, said:

“Spreading the flow of water across the mires will create a wetter habitat where mosses and other rare plants can thrive. Under the acidic, waterlogged conditions the mosses never fully decompose so the carbon remains locked up as peat.”

Another part of the project is to cut back purple moor grass which has thrived in the drier conditions, smothering other wetland species. Re-wetting the mires will also improve drought and fire resilience by holding more water in the landscape during the summer, as well as help prevent flooding by soaking up heavy rainfall.

David added:

“A new wetland ecosystem should establish itself quite quickly, including rare species such the carnivorous Godlingston sundew (named after Godlingston Heath in Purbeck where it was first found). It captures and digests insects to supplement its diet on the nutrient-poor bog.

“There are also important invertebrates like the nationally rare raft spider which floats on the bog pools and is a very aggressive hunter. Insects then attract birds and mammals including rare nightjars that nest on the heathland and feed over the mires.”

The restoration work is part the Dorset Peat Partnership’s £1 million project to reinstate peatlands on 16 sites across the county. Led by Dorset Wildlife Trust, the key partners of the partnership are Natural England, the Environment Agency, Forestry England, BCP Council, the National Trust, the RSPB and one private landowner.

The project has been funded by £787,320 from DEFRA’s Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme and £262,500 from other partners. The National Trust’s peatland restoration in Purbeck is being supported by the Wytch Farm Landscape and Access Enhancement Fund.