Restoring the UK's peatlands

Ballynahone (c) 2020 vision

The Wildlife Trusts are involved in an ambitious plan to restore four per cent of the UK’s landmass to improve water quality, alleviate flooding, aid carbon storage and help wildlife.

A million hectare challenge map is being prepared to set an ambitious target for restoring peatlands.  It has huge implications for people and for business.

Peatlands cover 12% of the UK and their restoration has never been a more pressing issue - unfortunately, 80% are in a poor condition because they’ve been drained of water or damaged by extraction. 

Peatlands are amazingly wild places, teeming with birds, insects and unusual plants. 

Peatlands are amazingly wild places, teeming with birds, insects and unusual plants.  The Wildlife Trusts are helping to protect and restore these special places around the UK.  We are one of several partners involved in the exciting 2020 Million Hectare Challenge map to encourage the restoration of a million hectares of peatland over the next seven years.

The Peatland Code will encourage the private sector/businesses to invest in restoring this precious resource.  Restoration is vital because peatlands:

  • store carbon – over three billion tonnes of carbon already stored and if repaired, they could remove an additional three million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from the atmosphere
  • both store and clean water as well as help reduce flooding – there’s huge economic value in improved water quality and flood alleviation
  • are fantastic landscapes for wildlife - rich habitats that are home to subtle and unique wild plants and animals, and fabulous wild places for people to enjoy

Investment by businesses is key to progress.  The call for private sector involvement comes at a time when water companies are being encouraged to improve water quality using upstream solutions.  Restoring peatlands can play a key part in tackling water quality issues at source.

Read more about the Million Hectare Challenge here.

The Wildlife Trusts, all across the UK, have some inspiring peatland restoration projects.  Some are in uplands and so benefit populations downstream as well as being carbon stores and wildlife havens.  Others are lowland peatlands where carbon storage and nature are the chief beneficiaries.

Ten wide-ranging projects are listed in the examples below.  You might also like to see our wildlife gardening pages to find out how to make your own compost and so avoid using peat products.

Peatland restoration projects being carried out around the UK by The Wildlife Trusts

Upland peatland restoration can have a direct affect on water quality and flood alleviation as well as being vital carbon stores and wildlife havens. Upland restoration examples:

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is an integral part of the Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP).  The YPP is an umbrella organisation working to restore and conserve upland peat resources in order to ensure the long-term future these unique and valuable habitats.

The potential project area is vast, encompassing the uplands of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, North York Moors National Park and areas of the South Pennines, North of the river Calder.

Within the Yorkshire region alone there is nearly 70,000 ha of upland peat soil, upon which a staggering 4,350,000 m of grips (drainage channels) have been incised.  There is a real and pressing need to undertake restoration in the Yorkshire region in order to protect these precious carbon sinks.  The partnership aims to substantially increase the amount of peatland restoration activity. 

In May 2013, Yorkshire Peat Partnership announced that it has restored more than a quarter of Yorkshire’s peatlands in a multi-million pound project that aims to preserve vital habitats and help cut global warming.  Around 100 square miles of Yorkshire’s precious peatlands have been restored in a multi-million pound project that aims to preserve vital habitats and help cut global warming by reducing the amount of carbon escaping from them into the atmosphere.

The achievement is a significant milestone for the Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP) because it means nearly a quarter of Yorkshire’s damaged peatlands have been restored and an estimated 29,500 tonnes of the damaging greenhouse gas CO2 prevented from being emitted, a major cause of global warming.  This is equivalent to the amount of carbon produced annually by 62,000 UK households.

Yorkshire Peat Partnership

Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust hosts The Pumlumon Project, a pioneering, science-based project to revive the ecology and economy of the Welsh uplands. Launched in 2007, it’s a long-term vision for the countryside, a pioneering experiment in an area of Mid Wales which contains 250 farms, 15,000 inhabitants and catchments for five rivers, including the Severn and Wye, which supply water to four million people.  The aim is to find new solutions to current and future land use problems.  It's philosophy centres on restoring or building ecosystems and economies relevant to today’s conditions.  In other words, to change the way 40,000 hectares of Mid Wales is managed for products and services.  That can only happen with a landscape-scale strategy that forges new partnerships between conservation, farming, forestry and tourism.  So while Pumlumon is hosted by Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of Wildlife Trusts Wales, it has the full support of the Welsh Assembly Government, the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and many other stakeholders.

Visit the beautiful Glaslyn Nature Reserve at Pumlumon, a 20 minute drive from Machynlleth.

Lake Vyrnwy Wales

Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Northumberland WT initiated the Border Mires restoration project – probably the longest running peatland restoration project of all - and over 2,850ha.

It began in a low-key way more than 40 years ago by nipping over to the site every spare moment with spades.  In more recent years, having achieved proper funding, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has made bigger gains and has completed the restoration - and is now focussed on ongoing management. 

Border Mires is the name given to a collection of peat bog sites in and adjacent to Kielder Forest, of which there are 58 separate sites.  Access to many of these is difficult due to their remote location and often requires a long walk over difficult terrain.

The majority are owned by Forest Enterprise and managed by a group of partners, including Northumberland Wildlife Trust.  The Border Mires are largely made up of deep lenses of peat in larger areas of blanket bog - peat stores carbon and reduces the effect of global warming, and can be up to 15m deep in places.

Plants such as sundew, cranberry, cotton grasses and sphagnum moss are prevalent.  Many pools are home to a variety of insects such as the black darter, common hawker and golden-ringed dragonflies.  Frogs are frequent while toads and palmate newts are a little less common. The large heath butterfly is a specialist of these bog sites - June and July are good months to see them.

The sites in and around Kielder Forest store more water than the reservoir and release it steadily, moderating flows and reducing flash floods.  Falstone Moss and Bell Crag Flow have boardwalks to allow easy access onto the mire.

The Border Mires feed into the rivers Tyne and Irthing, part of the Eden catchment.  Restoration reduces erosion and thus the amount of peat sediment in the water.  By making the sites function as bogs again the work should also be helping to buffer the effects of flash flooding and lack of water in dry summers through regulation of flows.  This kind of properly functioning upland habitat helps lower river systems. 

Border Mires

Lowland peatland restoration following damage to peatlands caused by extraction or agriculture is important for carbon sequestration, wildlife and, in some cases, for flood alleviation.  These are examples of lowland restoration:

The Wildlife Trust of Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside

Lancashire Wildlife Trust was at the forefront of the campaign against the peat extraction licence at Salford’s Chat Moss.

It has two showcase peatland restoration projects:
Cadishead Moss is an eight hectare former peat extraction site which the Wildlife Trust bought in March 2009.  Lancashire Wildlife Trust has carried out extensive restoration works to remove the birch trees which were drying the moss out, and to block the site’s drainage ditches.  It has also used a novel re-levelling technique to increase the area of wet raised bog habitat. 

Whilst the site is not fully restored it is already a thriving wetland nature reserve supporting a wide range of species.  Brown hare and black darter dragonflies can be frequently seen on the site, as well as sphagnum moss – a key part of a healthy bog. The site also supports a number of nationally important species including bog bush cricket, common lizard, common toad, lapwing, curlew and willow tit. 

Little Woolden Moss is a 107 ha peat extraction site which Lancashire Wildlife Trust bought in September 2012.  Currently the majority of the site has no vegetation with the underlying peat soil being exposed.  As part of a £1.9m Heritage Lottery Funded project Lancashire Wildlife Trust is working hard to restore this site back to mossland (raised bog) habitat whilst engaging with the local community many of whom live in nationally deprived areas.  Despite the majority of the site having no vegetation the site still supports a number of nationally important species. 

Cadishead Lancs WT

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Cumbria Wildlife Trust is a lowland peatland restoration specialist:
Foulshaw Moss covers over 350 hectares near Morecambe Bay – the peatland restoration work here is nearing completion although there are still diggers onsite for the next few months.  The next phase is to put in better footpaths and access.

This moss includes an ancient oak woodland and some reed beds, as well as the raised mire itself.  Species benefitting are birds of prey such as owls and ospreys, dragonflies - including the re-introduction of the white-faced darter - and reptiles.  It is one of three peat bogs at the Witherslack Mosses (the other two are Meathop Moss and Nichols Moss) all of which have been restored to varying extents and stretch over 1000 hectares.

Visit this amazing project:  Foulshaw Moss is seven miles south west of Kendal and can be reached from the A590. 

Drumburgh Moss restoration is also complete and access has already been put in.  The peat bog has attracted a lot of breeding birds.  It is close to the Solway Estuary and is 200 hectares of peat bog, known in the conservation business as lowland raised mire.

Drumburgh Moss

Shropshire Wildlife Trust

Wem Moss at 28 hectares is Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s small part of a 950 ha Fenns/Whixall Moss National Nature Reserve.  Over the past decade it has been working to raise water levels.  It is the part of the NNR that hasn’t been exploited for peat, but drainage and other impinging agricultural activities have threatened it.

At neighbouring Whixall Moss Shropshire Wildlife Trust is embarking on trying to buy a scrapyard.  Wem and Whixall Moss are within the Meres & Mosses Nature Improvement Area, led by Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Thanks to a new grant Cheshire Wildlife Trust can now restore Delamere’s lost mosslands and create a Living Landscape where wildlife can thrive, disperse and colonise.  The white-faced darter dragonfly and other species like the carnivorous round-leaved sundew will directly benefit from the peatland restoration work.

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN)

At 14 square miles, The Great Fen is a 50-year project to create a huge wetland area.  One of the largest restoration projects of its type in Europe, the landscape of the fens between Peterborough and Huntingdon is being transformed for the benefit both of wildlife and of people.

A lost landscape: The wild fens with their abundant wildlife once stretched for hundreds of miles across eastern England.  Starting in the 17th century the land was drained for farming and more than 99% of this habitat with many rare species of plants and animals disappeared.  Two of the last fragments of wild fen, Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen, became National Nature Reserves (NNRs), but even they are too small and isolated to effectively support the special wildlife of the original fens.

WTBCN has just launched a public appeal to help complete the Great Fen jigsaw: to transform Engine Farm, another 450 acres of land at its heart, which would increase the area for wildlife by almost a fifth and join up a number of separate areas which are already being restored.

Rich grasslands, meadows and wetlands will be created on the new land to provide homes for declining birds, such as corn buntings, linnets, skylarks, lapwings and snipe. 

Woodwalton Fen BCN WT

Somerset Wildlife Trust

At Catcott Great Fen, the 30 acre restoration included the recreation of one of the UK’s rarest habitats, alkaline fen, and in future Somerset Wildlife Trust is hoping to see alkaline fen rarities like marsh pea.

With the help of many local people, Somerset Wildlife Trust has restored 30 acres of former industrial peat-diggings in the Brue Valley into species-rich, wetland habitat.  Once the habitat is restored, this fen will provide nectar for rare insects like the shrill carder bee whilst the open water and reedbed areas will be a haven for birds like shoveller, bittern and wigeon. 

At the end of the summer 2013, Somerset Wildlife Trust welcomed members and supporters to Catcott Nature Reserve to see the results of its 30 acre wetland restoration project. In just seven short months the site has recovered and the transformation from derelict industrial site to a wildlife haven is complete, including the re-creation of some of the UK’s rarest habitat. 

Sphagnum Translocation Somerset

Scottish Wildlife Trust

Red Moss of Netherley contains a variety of habitats including a raised bog with open pools, fen, marsh and woodland.  Much of the bog is dominated by heather, although other characteristic bog plants are also found, such as sundews and bog asphodel. Scottish Wildlife Trust has started restoration work on 40% of the reserve.

Red moss of Balerno is situated two miles south of Balerno on the edge of the Pentlands. It’s the only lowland raised bog in the City of Edinburgh.  The reserve is composed of deep peat that has accumulated over thousands of years since the end of the last ice age.  It has a boardwalk that allows for visitors to walk right out into the bog. 

Tailend Moss is a lowland raised bog composed of deep peat that has accumulated over thousands of years since the end of the last ice age. It is an important site for peatland plants, damselflies and dragonflies.  Scottish Wildlife Trust is putting in dams this winter to restore the hydrology by raising the water level.

Red Moss