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Restoring peat on Holcombe Moor

Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum cf capillifolium rubellum), on Malham Tarn Estate, Yorkshire
Sphagnum moss on Malham Tarn Estate | © National Trust Images / Stephen Morley

Holcombe Moor is part of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire. Find out how we're working to restore its precious peat to protect local communities from flooding, reduce carbon in the atmosphere and improve habitats for wildlife.

Peat on Holcombe Moor

Holcombe's moorland is a precious environment where blanket bog has formed over 6,000 years, leading to an accumulation of peat that is as deep as three metres in some areas.

Air pollution and the impact of the Industrial Revolution have brought significant damage to the peat surface. Other environmental pressures on the moor – which affect many other Pennine areas too – include moorland fires, erosion and overgrazing.

These pressures have led to dried-out surface peat and have made the vegetation less suitable for birds that breed on the moorland. It has also increased the likelihood of flooding downstream. Additionally, the peat can no longer store carbon in the way that it should do. This is a problem because healthy peat is such a valuable resource in our efforts to reduce high levels of carbon.

What are we doing?

Together with the Moors for the Future Partnership, Natural England and the Holcombe Moor Commoners’ Association, and with support from DEFRA’s Moor Carbon fund, a new programme of important work began in 2020 to improve Holcombe Moor peatland. This includes:

Creating permeable dams to restrict the flow of flood water
Initially, this work will be carried out in the Alden Ratchers area by transporting stones by helicopter from a quarry just 1km away and lifting them into eroded gullies.
Using excavation methods to create bunds and pools in select areas
This will also help to reduce the free flow of water across the moorland plateau.
Reintroducing peat moss in newly rewetted areas
This will eventually make the top layers of the peat much more permeable and able to retain more water, rather than allowing it to flow over the surface as it does currently.
A drone photo of a vast moorland landscape covered in large scallop-shaped pools dug out of the peat
A drone photo of a vast moorland landscape covered in large scallop-shaped pools dug out of the peat | © NW Groundworks

Our vision for the future

The restoration project will have an impact in three different areas: biodiversity, carbon capture and natural flood management.

By restoring the living surface of blanket bog, this project can restore the capacity of Holcombe Moor to absorb carbon, supporting our efforts to adapt to climate change.

It will improve blanket bog habitat, helping the recovery of breeding moorland birds like golden plovers and dunlins.

By linking an upland landscape to downstream beneficiaries in Rossendale and Greater Manchester, as well as holding rainwater on the moor for longer, the project will reduce flooding, helping to protect communities at risk.

Working with the local community

For local communities, Holcombe Moor is not only of great value as low intensity farmland but also as a place of recreation. We are working to make the area more accessible for those living in nearby urban areas, while also managing tracts where wildlife is sensitive to disturbance.

To achieve our goals for Holcombe Moor, we're continuing to work closely with groups such as the Holcombe Moor Commoners’ Association, the Holcombe Society and Bury Local Access Forum.

This page will be updated as the restoration project continues. If you have any questions, please email us at

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Natural England is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. They help to protect and restore our natural world.

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