Borrowdale Moss peatland restoration

Borrowdale Moss

Damaged peatland at Borrowdale Moss, Cumbria.
© Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Cumbria Wildlife Trust's survey of bogs in the Lake District confirmed that most have been damaged, prompting  action to restore peatland.  Almost all English peatlands have been damaged by drainage, heavy grazing, regular burning, cultivation, forestry or other management.

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

Cumbria Wildlife Trust has been restoring upland peatlands since 2001 and we have detailed some of the restoration projects we have carried out such as the one below. Links to further peatland restoration projects can be found at the bottom of the page.

Where:  Borrowdale Moss

Blanket bog at Borrowdale Moss, between Kendal and Shap, is scattered across 8 km2, at altitudes ranging from 400 to 650 m above sea level, and includes the heads of two glacial valleys. The peat is on flatter ground, mostly on the tops of the fells, but also in valley bottoms. The rest of the site is steeper valley sides and valley bottoms, with mineral soils vegetated by grass and rush, plus rocky outcrops on the fell tops. The peat deposits range from 50 to 250 cm depth, with an average of about 100 cm, though rather deeper in the centre of the site.

Area:  8.81 km2

Owner:  In private ownership

Conservation status:  County Wildlife Site

Cost of restoration:  £171,000

The problem:  The vegetation was degraded, with deergrass and cottongrass appearing to have spread at the expense of sphagnum moss and dwarf shrubs. There was extensive micro-erosion, leading to gullying and hagging, thought to be due to heavy grazing in the past. The majority of the erosion features on site were vertical peat faces (hags), including simple linear hags and island-shaped features. There were also erosion gullies present, and smaller amounts of open bare ground, or ‘peat pans’. There was one particularly large area of bare peat. This all leads to significant peat loss through erosion as well as increasing the speed of rain washing off the bog, increasing flood risk downstream.

What Cumbria Wildlife Trust did:  Working closely with the landowner, we undertook detailed surveys enabling us to accurately map all the erosion features. We also used high resolution aerial photographs to help with this. Using this information we were able to produce a detailed restoration plan, including costings. This restoration plan was used to secure government funding to address the peat erosion and to tender for the work with local contractors. It is estimated that, in total, the project officer walked over 1,000 miles while surveying the site, overseeing restoration and post-works monitoring.

Using specialist excavators we re-profiled the steep eroding edges, covering them with turf taken from borrow pits nearby. Sediment traps within erosion gullies were created, allowing them to infill and stabilise.  An area of approximately 20,000 m2 of bare peat has been treated with a mixture of mosses and other vegetation harvested from on site. In addition we have undertaken the re-profiling of 48,000 m of eroding hag faces, 11,000 m of gullies and the construction of sediment traps in 7,300 m of erosion gullies.

Benefits:  Peatland restoration at this site will help reduce the amount of peat particles polluting rivers below, particularly the internationally important River Kent; it will increase the amount of good quality blanket bog habitat; and it will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere through erosion. Revegetating areas of bare peat and blocking gullies will slow the flow of water from the site, reducing the chance of flash flooding downstream. Raising the water table and making the area wetter will also help a host of rare species that need wet habitats.

Species benefitting:  Heather, common cottongrass, hare’s-tail cottongrass, deergrass, cross-leaved heath, crowberry, bilberry, cowberry, cranberry, cloudberry, bog rosemary, bog asphodel, sundew, purple moor-grass, soft rush, sphagnum moss.

Carbon locked in:  No accurate analysis has been done for this site as yet.

Borrowdale Moss before and after restoration

Borrowdale Moss before and after restoration.
© Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Borrowdale Moss peat hag before and after restoration

Borrowdale Moss peat hag before and after restoration.
© Cumbria Wildlife Trust