Are we making a difference?

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer

A couple of days ago I visited part of Bransdale Moor, where a peatland restoration project initiated originally by the National Park Authority was completed a couple of years ago. This is one of a number of sites in the North York Moors where peatland restoration work has been carried out over the last few years.

Funded by Natural England and coordinated by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership*, the work on Bransdale Moor involved blocking grips or drains that had been dug several decades ago to try and drain the moors to improve the land for agriculture. Blocking the drains allows more water to be held on the moorland rewetting the peat. The work also involved helping peatland vegetation to regrow on bare areas. The peat had been eroding badly on these bare areas and within these drains, washing peat and silt into rivers, and destroying our most valuable carbon store and one of our most fragile wildlife habitats.

As with any ecological project, there is always still work to do and we’re determined to do it, but I am hugely encouraged by the signs of recovery there now. Many of the dams in the drains have trapped impressive quantities of peat, preventing it from washing away, and some of the trapped peat is already being colonised by cotton-grass. Even better, bog plants like Sphagnum are growing well on the undamaged ground nearby, despite last summer’s dry weather. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps it is a bit wetter up here than it was before. That really would make a difference, not only for the wildlife on the moors like the golden plovers I heard calling, and the fish and other wildlife which benefit from cleaner rivers downstream, but maybe even the people down below the moorland whose property could be less liable to flood. I do hope so.

* Yorkshire Peat Partnership c/o Yorkshire Wildlife Trust


6 thoughts on “Are we making a difference?

  1. This suddenly trendy idea that waterlogged uplands will retain more water is rather ludicrous.
    As soon as any soil type is at capacity, any further rain will just run directly off.
    Rainfall doesn’t rush immediately into drainage systems, the land soaks it up, and it can hold more if the water table has been previously lowered by drainage.
    Good to see erosion may be significantly decreased though, no-one wants that.

    • The clue is in the word ‘waterlogged’. By definition they retain more water, and release it more slowly, than drained uplands. Better still if they are not overgrazed. Natural woodland starts to regrow – more water retention – and peat reforms on the wetter areas. So even more water retention. You may not be familiar with the idea of a raised bog, where the water table rises with the peat. You can confirm this with a hydrologist if you like – only the NFU seem to be of your opinion at the moment though.

      • There is very little raised bog on the North York Moors.
        The term ‘waterlogged’ as applied to land implies the water table is at or near the surface.
        Land in this condition cannot carry on absorbing more rainfall.
        The rain on a given area has to go somewhere and gravity dictates this will be downhill!

        Trees on the open moors may look nice but indicate reduced management and the start of conversion to scrubby woodland of impenetrable birch -, e.g the area around Cawthorne Camp.
        This has its appeal but I’m not sure losing moorland to this type of poor quality woodland is desirable.

  2. Both Colin Grice and James McMillan make good points! What we’re hoping to do is to slow down the speed at which water flows from high ground to lower ground and keep the upland peat wetter for longer. By doing this, the peaks of any floods, which will still occur from time to time, may be lower than before. Planting trees can help do this, but the method we’d normally prefer on moorland is blocking the old drains that still run into watercourses. This is good for many upland plants and animals, which suffer when we have long periods of dry weather. The added benefit of reducing silt and peat reaching the watercourses downstream is that they should be better able to take floodwater away from land of value to people as well. One small project won’t do this, but it’s another piece in a jigsaw which we’re very gradually completing.

    Early impressions from the Slowing the Flow in Pickering Project are encouraging and the principles are being applied in many other parts of the country.

    Rona Charles

  3. Pingback: National Park Newbie | The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

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