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195,000 ‘super’ sphagnum moss plugs planted to protect peatlands in the Peak District

A close up of a hand in a work glove holding a sphagnum moss plug
A sphagnum moss plug ready to be planted on the moors of the Peak District | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Over the last six months, National Trust staff, volunteers, and Moors for the Future Partnership have planted over 195,000 sphagnum moss plugs across almost 170 hectares of moorland in the Peak District, helping to restore vital peatland to benefit wildlife, local communities, and the environment.

Why Sphagnum moss is 'super'

In good condition, peatlands on the moors act as a carbon store which helps to tackle climate change and provide vital homes for wildlife. In addition, this ‘super’ sphagnum moss can help to reduce flood risk and clean the water that ends up in our reservoirs.

“It’s vital to restore our peatland,” said Kait Jones, Countryside Manager at the National Trust in the Peak District, “and sphagnum moss really is the perfect plant-hero for the job. It can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water, which helps hold water on the moors. This creates the right soggy conditions for other moorland vegetation to thrive, and therefore for healthy blanket bog to develop. Making the moors wetter should also help to reduce the severity of moorland fires which can have devastating effects on wildlife and people.”

“Planting the sphagnum plugs is very labour intensive but our amazing team of staff, volunteers and partners, have worked incredibly hard to achieve a great deal this planting season. They work across a large area, often in remote locations in all-weathers, and it is thanks to their efforts that we can continue to do as much as we can each year.”

One person with sticks making holes on the moor and two rangers planting sphagnum moss plugs
Volunteers and rangers planting sphagnum moss in the High Peak Image | © National Trust

The role of sphagnum moss in peatland restoration

Peatland restoration work is needed because of the effects of human activity over the centuries. Pollution, historical land management practices, high visitor numbers and climate change, have all had an impact on the health of our peatlands This has left bare peat exposed in some areas. In this state, the peat can emit carbon and be worn away by wind and rain. Water also runs off bare peat much quicker than it does off moorland that is covered in vegetation, which can contribute to flooding.

The National Trust cares for 10,000 hectares of moorland in the Peak District. This land is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest1 by Natural England. The National Trust has already done a significant amount of restoration work there over 40 years, and since 2003 as a Moors for the Future partner.

Progress so far

“We always knew these areas of peatland were important but now, more than ever, we understand just how critical it is to restore them to tackle the effects of the climate and nature crisis” said Craig Best, General Manager at the National Trust.

“We are starting to see the positive impact the work we have completed is having on our moorland. In areas which used to be a bare moonscape of peat, before restoration work started, a mix of moorland plants such as cotton grass, bilberry and heather have established. Evidence tells us our work is having a positive impact on water quality as it reaches our reservoirs too. Research has also shown how this work is reducing flood risk. This is thanks to the expertise and dedication of everyone involved. However, we know there is more work to do, and we are developing plans for even more restoration. We will keep going until we have established healthy blanket bog on all the peatland we care for in the Peak District.”

Pausing for ground nesting bird season

For now though, the sphagnum moss planting and peatland restoration season is almost at an end. It pauses at the end of March, resuming again in September, to avoid disturbing moorland birds during their nesting season.

A volunteer kneeling down planting a sphagnum plug with another volunteer making holes with a stick

Interested in volunteering in the Peak District

If you would like to get involved to care for the nature and wildlife of the Peak District look out for volunteering opportunities here.