Vital wetland restored to natural glory

A 50-YEAR healing operation for internationally-important wetlands in the North has taken a major step forward.

Bill Burlton

A 50-YEAR healing operation for internationally-important wetlands in the North has taken a major step forward.

A £700,000 project to push forward the restoration of the 12,000-year-old Border Mires has been completed nearly two years ahead of schedule. Over 2,500 acres of the Border Mires – one of the world’s most important wetland habitats – have been reinstated in a drive which has seen 800,000 conifers felled on Forestry Commission land and 15 kilometres of drains blocked to raise the water table.

The work has been completed in three years by the Forestry Commission, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland National Park, Natural England, Newcastle University and RAF Spadeadam.

Neville Geddes, from the Forestry Commission, said: “For the Border Mires it’s now a question of time. Most of the critical work has been done and the bogs will gradually heal over hundreds of years, laying down new peat and supporting ever more flourishing colonies of bog plants and insects.

“We get dazzled by the wonders of the rain forest and marvellous ancient woodlands. But while bogs may lack the same visual impact, in many ways they are an even more endangered and fragile habitat.”

Formed after the Ice Age, the Border Mires straddle Northumberland and Cumbria, and have been designated as Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive, in addition to multiple designations as sites of special scientific interest.

Britain holds approximately 13% of the world resource of blanket bog so the mires are especially important.

Originally trees were planted across huge swathes of the mires as part of national drive to build up the nation’s timber reserves after the First World War.

But the trees sucked up moisture from the ground and newly dug drainage channels allowed water – the life blood of the bogs – to seep away.

Work to reverse the decline began in the 1970s when drainage ditches were blocked. Then starting in 1990s, 625 acres were restored by removing trees, which were also shading out bog vegetation, damming ditches and using peat plugs to retain water.

But more needed to be done. The impetus was provided by a survey which revealed that nearly half of England’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) land area was in a poor condition.

The Government set Natural England a target to get 95% of SSSIs into at least “recovering status” by 2010.

Using funding from Defra, the Border Mires partners set to work and all 28 of the most important bogs with SSSI status now meet the “recovering” benchmark.

Mike Sutcliffe of Natural England’s Northumberland team said: “Peat bogs take thousands of years to develop and are some of our most unique and precious places for wildlife. In summer, they are a spectacular sight with the bright yellow flowers of bog asphodel, the pink flowers of cranberry and bog rosemary, and the jewel-like hummocks of multi-coloured mosses.

“It’s great news that thanks to this project the process of recovery is already happening on the Border Mires with bog mosses starting to grow over the remains of recent areas of forestry.”

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Fact File

The Border Mires comprise 57 peaty bogs, stretching from Kielder to Butterburn.

More carbon is stored in the Border Mires than in all the trees growing in 155,000 acre Kielder Forest – England’s biggest man-made woodland.

The bogs hold more liquid than Kielder Water – Europe’s largest man-made lake.

Peat is up to 15 metres deep in places in the mires.

Plants boosted by the restoration work include one of England’s rarest trees - the bonsai-like dwarf birch, usually found in much colder climates.

The mires were a refuge of the Border Reivers, who escaped the clutches of the law thanks to their knowledge of this wetland, which led to them being dubbed “moss troopers”.


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