British peatland restoration brings back rare birds after twenty years

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Curlew. Photo credit: Andy Hay RSPB

A major peatland restoration project has heralded the return of breeding golden plover and curlew to an upland farm in Eryri (Snowdonia), the first breeding of the birds there in over twenty years.

Through taking a nature friendly farming approach and undergoing pioneering peatland restoration, the Ritchie brothers who manage the farm have delicately balanced delivering for nature, mitigating against climate change and maintaining a sustainable farm business.  

Over the past four years RSPB Cymru, National Trust Cymru and the Ritchie family have been part of a pioneering collaboration, working to restore peatlands in the Upper Conwy Valley, part-funded through the Wales Peatland Sustainable Management Scheme, run by the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

The Ritchie family are National Trust tenants at Blaen y Coed, an upland farm within the Ysbyty Ifan estate. Moorland on this estate falls within the Migneint Special Area of Conservation: a large and internationally important expanse of upland heath and blanket bog, with huge potential for delivering public goods, such as carbon storage, biodiversity, water filtration and flood protection – when in a well-managed, healthy condition.

In 2017, the partnership started working to restore areas of damaged and degraded peatland, with the goal of creating healthier habitats for declining upland birds. They spent four winters blocking drainage ditches and deep erosion gulleys in the peatlands; creating mini peat dams which in turn allowed small pools to form and rewet the peatland landscape. All work in this very challenging wet peat-bog habitat being carried out by the Ritchie family themselves, using their own farm machinery.

Peatland restoration works being carried out by the tenants. Source: National Trust

Close monitoring of the habitat has shown it has improved dramatically since the work has been done. Pools are re-forming and specialist bog plants such as sphagnum mosses, cotton grasses and sundews are thriving once again. Wet peatland is an ideal habitat for golden plover and curlew and over the summer both species returned to the site to breed successfully within the re-wetted habitats with chicks of both species being seen. This proved to be the first successful breeding on this site since the 1990’s.

Edward Ritchie, the tenant at Blaen y Coed said:

“It’s been great to hear the Curlew back at Blaen y Coed. The project has helped provide specialist machinery work for my brother and the results have also allowed for more scattered grazing by the sheep in the area, so we’re pleased with how things have gone.”

Dewi Davies, Project Manager for the Upper Conwy Catchment Project said:

“The transformation we’ve seen through our partnership work on this special landscape is remarkable. Where once we had an area of degraded blanket bog, we now have a rich habitat that provides a whole suite of vital ecosystem services like carbon storage, water filtration, flood protection and a home for wildlife.”

David Smith, RSPB Cymru Senior Conservation Officer, said:

“These successes show that working together towards a common goal of nature restoration does work, and it’s been great to see how the Ritchie brothers have succeeded in combining conservation delivery efforts with the everyday task of running their farm business. It’s a brilliant story, that we hope will inspire similar projects in the future.”

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