Peat work is a great green triumph

A helicopter delivers heather brash to Hazlewood Manor. Pic: Yorkshire Peat Partnership.
A helicopter delivers heather brash to Hazlewood Manor. Pic: Yorkshire Peat Partnership.
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Five years after it was formed, the Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP) has successfully restored more than 17,000 hectares of upland blanket peat in North Yorkshire – the equivalent of around 10,000 football pitches.

It means that the organisation’s long-term goal of restoring 35,000 hectares of the county’s upland peat by 2017 is within reach. The potential project area is vast, covering swathes of North Yorkshire and adjoining areas of West Yorkshire, and taking in parts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and areas of the South Pennines.

Across the county there are almost 70,000 hectares of upland peat but drainage channels extending to 4.35 million metres in length have been carved into them for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. Efforts to reverse this damage are an important part of the partnership’s work.

Less than 20 per cent of the UK’s peatland remains undamaged; most of it is eroding away.

Tessa Levens, senior peatland restoration officer for the YPP, explained: “There’s a real and pressing need to undertake restoration in the Yorkshire region in order to protect these precious carbon sinks. Although peatlands only cover three per cent of the earth, they store 30 per cent of all soil carbon. That’s an estimated 550 gigatonnes globally, which is about 75 per cent of all atmospheric carbon. Degrading peatlands release carbon into the atmosphere, so it’s best to keep it where it is. The UK’s peatlands alone store approximately 3.2bn tonnes of carbon.”

Tessa revealed that peatland also supports all manner of wildlife.

“Peatlands provide habitat for birds such as golden plovers, lapwings, short eared owls, curlews, meadow pipits and birds of prey, including hen harriers. You’ll also find specialist plants there, such as peat-forming sphagnum mosses, insectivorous sundew, cranberry, bilberry, cloudberry, bog asphodel and heathers. Many of these plants couldn’t survive in other conditions. There are also reptiles and amphibians, including adders, common lizards and frogs, and invertebrates, such as emperor moths, crane flies and fox moths. We also see mammals like hares and stoats.”

The Yorkshire Peat Partnership is led by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities and the Environment Agency, with support from Yorkshire Water, National Trust, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, Pennine Prospects, Moors for the Future and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Landowners also play a crucial role. Tess said: “We work very closely with landowners, gamekeepers and graziers to keep them informed about the work throughout the process and they are generally supportive of the work we do. Some can be a bit hesitant to begin with, which is understandable with such large-scale restoration, but we take any concerns into account and they are often eased once we’ve fully explained the plan.”

One example of joint working was the delivery by helicopter of heather brash to Hazlewood Manor near Bolton Abbey earlier this year. Heather brash is heather that has been cut and harvested, in much the same way that farmers harvest wheat. It’s used to cover patches of bare, eroding peat.

Tessa said: “The delivery of brash, with the heather seeds and mosses that it contains, helps us to restore bare and eroding patches of peat to protect it for the future. It gives the vegetation a chance to re-establish itself, promoting healthy moorland.”

Harvey Thomas, of The Bolton Abbey Estate, added: “Peatland is not only important to support a diverse range of species and habitats, but it also acts as a vehicle to store carbon and forms part of the unique landscape that makes up the Yorkshire Dales. The work carried out by the YPP will ensure that areas of peatland are markedly improved.”