A RARE wildlife habitat is set to be restored after 18 acres of key land was sold for just £1.
Durham Wildlife Trust has acquired the land adjacent to its Stanley Moss nature reserve, near Sunniside, for a nominal £1 from local developer the Banks Group, after the company decided to return it to community ownership.
The land is degraded peat bog that was previously planted with conifers.
They were felled two years ago as part of the first phase of the restoration of the land back to peat bog.
The new acquisition will allow the trust to extend Stanley Moss and re-hydrate the area by blocking up old forestry drains and drainage grips, and to then restore the rare habitat as well as protect the existing neighbouring peat bog.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at the Banks Group, said: “We have had a long relationship with the trust and have supported many of their projects across our home county over the years. Their restoration plans for this important site will make a huge difference to the local environment and we’re very pleased to be playing our part in enabling them to be realised.
“As a renewable energy, coal mining and property development company, our experience proves that wind farms and surface coal mines can co-exist alongside nature reserves and we believe this could provide a valuable template for future development in the county.”
Trust reserves manager Mark Richardson said: “This purchase is important because Stanley Moss is one of the very few remaining blanket peat bogs found in the lowlands of County Durham.
“It once covered a much larger area but the vast majority of this habitat type has been lost due to opencast coal mining, forestry and agricultural improvements.”
The reserve’s vegetation has developed over a thick layer of peat and supports large stands of heather, bilberry and common cotton grass, which carpet the bog in shades of pink, purple and white in the summer.
The surface of the bog is waterlogged in many places providing habitats for sphagnum mosses and other uncommon plants such as crowberry, cross-leaved heath and hare’s-tail cotton grass. The site is also important for birds with meadow pipits, skylark and lapwing known to breed on site.
Mark said: “It is now acknowledged that peat bogs make a massive contribution in the fight against climate change due to their ability to store carbon.
“It is thought that peat actually contains about 65% of the planet’s carbon dioxide and peat bogs store twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests.
“However, peat bogs have been lost at an alarming rate in the recent past, which makes the restoration and protection of peat bogs such as Stanley Moss so important.
“Durham Wildlife Trust intend to restore Stanley Moss back to its former glory by reinstating the water table in areas where the bog has dried out.
“The acquisition of this further land adjacent to Stanley Moss is the final piece in the jigsaw and safeguards its future for generations to come.”
There is also a public footpath that runs along the boundary of the site but since it is waterlogged, the trust plans to install boardwalks across the wetter areas to improve public access.