Peatland restoration in Cumbria

Peatland restoration project

Oblong leaved sundew 

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are very unique habitats that are more commonly known as ‘bogs’, however this term does not capture the diversity of peatlands and there are actually many different types of habitat that fall under the heading of peatlands including Blanket bog, Lowland raised mire and Valley mire.

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Peatlands are made up of decaying plant material, however due to the waterlogged conditions that mean there is a lack of oxygen in the soil, the plant material cannot rot and therefore builds up into a thick layer of peat.

However this process is extremely slow with most peatlands only growing 0.5 - 1mm a year, meaning that it can take over 1000 years to make 1m of peat! Some peatlands found in Cumbria are up to 10m deep, showing just how long these habitats have been around.

Most peatlands grow so thick that they are actually above the water table and therefore only receive their water from rainfall. This is one reason why peatlands are so common in in the cool and wet climate of Cumbria, which holds 31,000 hectares of blanket bog alone. This is equivalent to over 43,417 football pitches!

Although it appears solid, peat is actually full of water and is very easily damaged.
Bog moss (Sphagnum) is the main peat-forming plant. It doesn't just grow on peatlands - it is the peatland. If you squeeze a handful, water will come pouring out; Sphagnum holds up to 20 times its own weight in water! By holding rainwater it helps to keep the surface damp and maintain the waterlogged conditions that are needed for the formation of peat. 

Image of a bog pool at Dunnerdale

A bog pool at Dunnerdale; a habitat home to many plant and animal species.

Blanket bog

This is usually found high up in the hills covering large areas. Flat mountain and hill tops in the Lake District are usually covered in blanket bog that sometimes also continues down the side of the hill if the slope is gentle.

Image of a bog pool at Dunnerdale

A bog pool at Dunnerdale; a habitat home to many plant and animal species.

Lowland raised mire

These peatlands are usually found on flat ground near the coasts of Cumbria. Places like our Foulshaw Moss nature reserve are examples of this habitat

Image of a bog pool at Dunnerdale

A bog pool at Dunnerdale; a habitat home to many plant and animal species.

Valley mire

As the name suggests these usually form in valley bottoms and can be found throughout the Lake District.

It can take over 1000 years to make 1m of peat
Cumbria Wildlife Trust

This short film by Simon Sylvester shows how we re-turfed eroding peat hags at Forest Hall Farm, plus the benefits for wildlife and the value of wetlands in improving water quality and as a carbon sink.

Peatland restoration in action

Watch this short film to find out why this project is so important and how we are restoring Cumbria’s peatlands.
 

Why does peatland restoration matter?

Cumbria Wildlife Trust's survey of bogs in the Lake District confirmed that most have been damaged, prompting  action to restore peatland.  At least 70 per cent of English peatlands are damaged by drainage, heavy grazing, regular burning, cultivation, forestry or other management. Scotland and Wales appear similar.

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Once the peatland is damaged it is no longer waterlogged and the specialist plant species that make the peatland, such as Sphagnum mosses, cannot survive.

Once these plant species are lost bare peat areas can form and the surface dries, crumbles and cracks; rapidly eroding during severe weather.

Restoring peatlands aims to reverse this damage by covering bare peat areas with vegetation, blocking drains to raise the water table and return the waterlogged conditions and re-introducing Sphagnum mosses into areas they have been lost.

Restoring the balance of nature benefits people and wildlife, as peatland are hugely important in a number of different ways;

Peatland impact

Archaeology

Because peat is waterlogged and lacks oxygen, things do not rot. Therefore peat can provide an amazing archaeological resource as it has preserved remarkable ancient graves, wooden artefacts and human bodies (known as ‘bog bodies’!) that wouldn't survived elsewhere.
 

Foulshaw Moss
Peatland impact

Carbon storage

Because the plant material within peatlands doesn’t rot it captures the carbon within the plants and locks it up within the peat. Therefore peatlands are the UK's largest carbon store - with 28.5 million tonnes in the Lake District alone.

A five per cent loss of UK peat soils would be equal to the entire annual man-made carbon emissions.
 

Donate to carbon contribution scheme
foulshaw moss pool at dusk - c- les fitton

© Les Fitton

Peatland impact

Water quality and drinking water

70 per cent of UK drinking water is from upland (generally peat dominated) catchments. Peatlands, in particular Sphagnum moss, is a very good filter of rainwater.

Damaged peatlands release large amounts of peat particles into surrounding streams and rivers. This is very expensive for water companies to remove before it can be used as drinking water and adds cost to our water bills.
 

flood water with a person in foreground
Peatland impact

Flood control

Peatlands hold large amount of water and during periods of high rainfall they can both hold back water and also slow the flow of the water coming off the hills.

Damaged peatlands cannot hold the same amounts of water. Areas that contain drains actually speed up the flow of water.  This means that during high rainfall events water isn’t held back and released slowly but flows immediately into rivers, increasing the flooding risk downstream.

Blocking drains slows this run-off and valley mires can help store floodwater.