Our charity partners for The Climate Project, Moors for the Future, give us their latest update on how the project is doing and remind us of the importance of sphagnum for combatting the climate crisis and peatland restoration. Moors for the Future Officer Alice Learey explains.
To many of us, moorlands are our local wilderness. An ethereal, boggy wilderness to explore, to run, climb, bike, hike and to stop, to breathe in the space. Not only do these landscapes offer a unique adventure, they have a huge global influence on our lives with their ability to store carbon. Our local moorlands in the Peak District and South Pennines are mostly peatlands, layers and layers of carbon-rich peat that have formed over some thousands of years.
Peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK carbon dioxide emissions and keeping it out of the atmosphere. These incredible resources depend on a key peat-building plant in particular, sphagnum moss.
Why are our moors so damaged?
Our local peatlands have been unable to support sphagnum for hundreds of years, dating back to the Industrial Revolution, and are counted amongst the most degraded upland landscapes in Europe. Pollution from the Industrial Revolution, coal smoke in particular pumped out from nearby factories, was carried across the moors and stripped the living bog layer from the peat as it killed off the sphagnum moss. You may have come across vast expanses of exposed, black soil. This is bare peat, and it is bad news. Without a protective layer of plants covering the surface, peat is vulnerable to erosion. As it erodes, peat releases carbon back into the atmosphere, blown away in the wind and washed downstream into waterways and giving the water its recognisable shade of brown.
Globally, 25% of peatlands have been destroyed and, in the UK, at least 80% are damaged. In the Peak District and South Pennines, Moors for the Future Partnership has been working to restore the moorlands to healthy peatlands, keeping carbon locked-up, since 2003. We work as a Partnership on a landscape-scale to bring life back to damaged, degraded peatlands by re-wetting the moors.
A healthy blanket bog should be carpeted in a thick lustrous layer of sphagnum moss, that decays from the base to build peat, and continues growing from the tip. Sphagnum moss has an impressive capacity to absorb water, holding up to 20 times its weight in water. It is this unrivalled feature that helps to maintain an all-important high water table, and gifts bogs with that characteristic wobble – and subsequent wet feet! Therefore, a large part of the restoration work across the peatlands is focussed on creating the right – wetter – conditions for sphagnum moss to gain a firmer foothold back on our moors.
ACTION: How is the BMC tackling Climate Change?
Replanting sphagnum moss on the moors is the very last step in our conservation works. Sphagnum is re-introduced by planting by hand small plants the size of a 50p coin, known as ‘plugs’. On average, one sphagnum moss plug plant can grow to the size of a dinner plate in around three months. Our vision is for these plugs to continue to flourish, and to creep across the moors to eventually join up and blanket the moors once more – building peat and storing carbon to tackle climate changes as they do so.
How much Sphagnum has been planted?
Since 2016, the Partnership has planted nearly 3,000 hectares of sphagnum moss across the Peak District and South Pennines, which is just over 3,500,000 plugs. Looking forwards to this wintery conservation season, an additional 1,000 hectares of sphagnum moss will be planted, totaling 5,050,000 sphagnum moss plugs over four years. This is good start, but is not nearly enough to plug the gaps in the blanket of sphagnum moss that is missing from our moors, there is still work to do to bring these moorlands back to thriving peatlands.
DISCOVER: BMC's The Climate Project
Some of these green transformations are already on a positive upward trajectory towards becoming healthy peatlands, but there is a lot more that remains to be done. You can see some of these changes occurring across some iconic locations in the Peak District and South Pennine moors including Black Hill, Kinder and Bleaklow as part of the MoorLIFE and MoorLIFE 2020 projects.
Healthy peat moors:
provide a unique habitat for a wide range of wildlife.
absorb and store carbon – peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK CO2 emissions and keeping it out of the atmosphere.
provide good quality drinking water – 70% of our drinking water comes from these landscapes. Damaged peat erodes into the reservoirs so that water companies have to spend more money cleaning the water for consumption.
potentially help reduce the risk of flooding.
WATCH: The great restoration work of Moors For The Future
The work of the Partnership is delivered by the Peak District National Park Authority as the lead and accountable body. It is supported through its partners including the Environment Agency, National Trust High, RSPB, Severn Trent Water, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water, Pennine Prospects, and receives additional advice from the Woodland Trust, Natural England and representatives of the moorland owner and farming community.
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