Volunteers take to Northumberland hills to save peat

Volunteers are taking to the hills to protect rare and important peatland above a Northumberland valley

Volunteers damming peat bogs in Northumberland
Volunteers damming peat bogs in Northumberland

Volunteers are taking to the hills to protect rare and important peatland above a Northumberland valley.

On Simonside’s western flank, between the heights of Tosson Hill and Ravensheugh, is an area of heather and blanket bog called Boddle Moss, which is one of Europe’s Special Areas of Conservation.

Northumberland National Park, North Pennines AONB Partnership and Northumberland Wildlife Trust are joining forces to protect the wetland as part of the shared work of the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership.

Boddle Moss is a deep peat area that provides an important service to wildlife and the people in the Coquet Valley below Simonside.

Trust volunteers are undertaking the bog restoration spadework with National Park staff and the work is being funded through the North Pennines AONB Partnership.

Blanket bogs are important stores of carbon and maintaining the habitat on the flat areas on the top of the Simonside ridge and deep peat areas such as Boddle Moss and Caudhole Moss contributes to reducing the effects of climate change.

Digging ditches, or grips, to drain bogs used to be common, as it dried out the surface so that sheep could graze or red grouse could nest.

But this ruins the bogs as they need to be waterlogged so that peat can continue to form and bog plants can grow.

Conservationists and landowners are now blocking ditches with dams to re-wet and protect these important habitats. Grips are straight drainage channels dug into the ground, often visible on aerial maps as they form a herring-bone pattern.

They were dug for drainage from the 1950s onwards. But keeping peatlands wet also helps regulate water flow and water quality further downstream.

A further benefit is that during hot dry summers the bogs still remain wet and provide important feeding places for birds.

Anthony Johnston, who is leading the wildlife trust volunteers, said: “Volunteers find this task very rewarding because within about half an hour water is already visibly rising behind the piling dams. Simonside is a great place to work as the views are so fabulous in the bright early autumn sunshine.”

The benefits of grip blocking are that the water is kept cleaner. Boddle Moss feeds into the Chartner Burn and then into the River Coquet, one of the country’s cleanest salmon and trout rivers.

Paul Leadbitter, peatland programme manager with the North Pennines AONB Partnership said: “Peatlands are the rainforests of the UK, and restoring this internationally important habitat is a priority. The funding of peatland restoration work in the national park is a tangible example of how we are working with our partners at the Local Nature Partnership level.”

Around 200 plastic piling dams will be put in over six days by the volunteers. At the same time, volunteers are undertaking similar work at Whitelee Nature Reserve just outside the national park near Byrness, also funded by the North Pennines.

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