Wrapped in our waterproofs, tucked away from the windy drizzle, Jenny Sharman, Lyndon Marquis and Jo Welch took us through the history of upland moor management in the Yorkshire Dales and of their main project site, Fleet Moss.
We were informed that the grasses and mosses die and fall into bog to become peat at a rate of 1 millimetre per year and therefore the 5 meter gullies we were standing in was 5,000 year’s worth of peatland lost through erosion in less than 100 years.
How Did This Happen and What Are the Consequences?
Post-WWII, misaligned UK government incentives led to the draining and drying of the boggy peatlands to expand agricultural and commercial timber production. Purpose built drainage gullies carried vast amounts of water, peat and carbon from these upland areas, down the river systems to the sea – and continue to do so.
Broken down peat contains carcinogens so the likes of Yorkshire Water spend upwards of £20m a year filtering it out of our drinking water. The peat sediment is equally as bad for wildlife as it turns streams and rivers dark brown. More peat means less light gets through to the aquatic plants so they don’t grow as well, if at all, which leads to less insect life and ultimately fewer birds and mammals throughout these river systems. The accelerated transport of water off these upland areas also creates the ideal conditions for flooding downstream which in 2015-16 for instance cost us in the UK £1.6 billion in property, infrastructure and business damage.
What Are They Doing About It?
These streams and gullies are being blocked with “logs” made of coconut fibre along with wooden and rock dams. Steep banks are being flattened out using excavators where access is possible, netting, heather and bracken is used to cover and secure banks and exposed surfaces and grasses and moss is being planted on bare surfaces.
Where does Vp Come In?
Currently there is no viable restoration technique for the worst eroded slopes since wind, rain and cold weather erode and freeze any material used to cover them. We are supporting a project with Manchester University, Innovate UK, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Yorkshire Peat Partnership to find new mixes of materials to secure seeds to these bare slopes.
Thankfully as we continued round the site the weather lifted and a lost phone from one of the team was miraculously found. However, in the process of focussing on the phone, Harvey was almost lost to the peat. As we all scrambled to capture evidence of Harvey’s slow motion disappearance, heroic Niamh was first to the scene. However, her heroism surpassed her self preservation and quickly she also started to sink – much to Hannah’s dismay. All’s well that end’s well and she was rescued in turn by Harvey and Ben.
In 2023 there will be more opportunities to learn about the work we are doing together with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust starting with a grass and moss planting day in March and as ever, you can reach out to Fred Pilkington, Sustainability Manager to express interest in these days.