Peatland restoration in Derbyshire to plant 800,000 tiny ‘speed-bumps’ to improve health of peatlands

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Sphagnum moss planting on Kinder Scout | © National Trust

Work has started to restore a new 526-hectare (1,300 acre) area of peatland on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, the site of the famous mass trespass of 1932 that is now cared for by the National Trust.

Around 130,000 of the 800,000 sphagnum moss plug plants needed for the restoration have been planted in the first phase of the project.

The sphagnum moss will help to create healthier blanket bog, protect the area’s precious peat and slow the flow of rainwater across the landscape. 

Once the newly planted sphagnum moss plugs have established, they will act as ‘speed-bumps’ for rainwater falling on the moors, forcing it to weave its way slowly down the moorland slopes instead of running in a straight line, thereby helping to alleviate flooding in nearby local towns and villages including Glossop, Whaley Bridge and Edale, which have previously been at high risk. 

Over time, the sphagnum moss will also help create the right conditions for peat to actively form, allowing the site to better lock up carbon and provide unique habitats for wildlife. 

The latest restoration project builds on insights gained from previous restoration work and a study carried out by Moors for the Future Partnership and The University of Manchester as part of MoorLIFE 2020, published last year. 

In this study, data collected from an outdoor laboratory on Kinder Scout National Nature Reserve was used as part of the study to assess the impact of earlier phases of peatland restoration in the area. It found that once sphagnum moss has grown, water takes over two hours longer to wend its way off the moors, compared to when rain falls on bare peat. 

Sphagnum moss achieves this because it creates a rougher, more textured surface which slows the flow of water and delays rainwater arriving in streams and rivers all at once and from one direction. This helps to reduce the peak of flow. 

Dr Emma Shuttleworth, peatland scientist and a Senior Lecturer from The University of Manchester, who played a key role in the research project said:

“It’s fantastic to see our natural flood management research from the outdoor laboratory having a real-world impact in helping to shape the next phase of restoration on Kinder Scout. 

“Landscape-scale experiments like this are rare, but they are so important for providing robust scientific evidence for the benefits of peatland restoration and showcasing the importance of these landscapes in helping us tackle the climate emergency. It is vital we continue to work together to protect and learn from this often-overlooked environment.” 

Craig Best, General Manager for the National Trust in the Peak District said: “It is absolutely critical that this work happens now. This year alone, we’ve seen dramatic weather events seriously affect thousands of households across the midlands and beyond. As we’re faced with the likelihood of more significant bouts of extreme rainfall, it is stark reminder that we need urgent action to increase our resilience in a changing climate. 

“In good condition, the moorlands of the Peak District can offer part of the solution to reduce carbon emissions and reduce the risk of flooding for people living downstream, so it’s vital that we continue to do as much restoration as quickly as we can.” 

Planting sphagnum moss, along with other peatland restoration techniques, also helps to improve water quality by filtering out the peat sediment before it reaches reservoirs. 

The restoration work will also create the sufficiently wet conditions for a mix of moorland plants like heather, bilberry, and cotton grass to grow. It will help to protect the landscape for future generations at the same time as creating homes for wildlife like dragonflies, golden plover, frogs and lizards. 

The first stage of this new stage of restoration of the Peak District’s peatlands has been made possible thanks to a first part of a grand total of £1.86m of funding from Natural England’s Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme (NCPGS) as well as a portion of the £400,000 the National Trust have allocated to carry out the restoration works on Kinder Scout. 

Peatlands across the country are in dire need of restoration to repair damage caused by centuries of pollution and land management which has destroyed vegetation and led to bare and eroding peat. In a damaged state, peat releases carbon into the atmosphere, turning from a fantastic carbon sink into a terrible carbon source. 

However, as evidenced by the research projects The University of Manchester and Moors for the Future Partnership, previous restoration projects at Kinder Scout have shown that it is possible to set the peatlands onto a road to recovery. 

The work on the National Nature Reserve (NNR) at Kinder Scout is the latest part of the National Trust’s ongoing work to restore blanket bog across the Peak District. 

Tia Crouch, Peat Ecologist at the National Trust said: “The peatlands of the Peak District make up over 20% of the peatlands in our care. This project is another step forward towards delivering on our commitment to have all the degraded peatlands in our care under restoration by 2040. We want to see them all move to a favourable condition by reducing the area of exposed peat, raising the water table and increasing the diversity of wildlife species found there which help to make healthy blanket bog.” 

To prevent disruption of the area’s ground nesting bird populations during their critical breeding season, works are now paused from April until August, at which point the sphagnum moss planting will resume, accompanied by the building of dams in gullies and the distribution of heather brash, lime, seed and fertiliser, which will stabilise bare peat by temporarily lowering its acidity and create the right conditions for moorland plants to grow. 

The later stage of the project will also see the restoration of many of the NNR’s footpaths, working to reduce erosion as well as ensuring people can continue to enjoy Kinder Scout at its best and immerse themselves in its rich history as the site of the historic mass trespass events which led to the formation of the National Parks in the early twentieth century. 

The project is expected to be completed in 2025.

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