Conservation at Work

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15th March 2021

The equivalent of more than 33,000 cars’ worth of carbon emissions is being removed from the atmosphere each year due to the pioneering environmental work of grouse moor estates in the north of England, a new survey has revealed.

A survey of Moorland Association members has revealed the extent of conservation work undertaken in the last ten years and the contribution to carbon capture:

  • 3,157 hectares of bare peat restored – equivalent to 5,207 football pitches
  • 2,945 kilometres of old agricultural drains (grips) blocked, to re-wet the peat, equivalent to a further 6,008 hectares of peatland restored
  • 1,275 hectares of trees planted – equivalent to 2,100 football pitches
  • 60 per cent of peatland restoration target now achieved
  • In total this means 61,126 tonnes of CO2 emissions are being saved per year – equivalent to taking 33,492 cars off the road every year

Peatland restoration and tree planting are key parts of the government’s commitment to tackling climate change, with ambitious England-wide targets of 35,000 hectares of peatland to be restored and about 10,000 hectares of trees per year planted by 2025.

Moorland Association members report they have already achieved 60 per cent of the peatland restoration work required on their land, with this latest work making a valuable (26%) contribution towards the UK government’s target for 2025.

Previous decades of work undertaken on Moorland Association members’ land restored at least 24,000 hectares of peatland and saw 4,000 km (2,485 miles) of drains blocked, all making a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions to date.

The Moorland Association works closely with the North Pennines AONB Partnership, Yorkshire Peat Partnership, Forest of Bowland AONB  and the Moors for the Future Partnership, working together to contribute to the UK’s carbon sequestration targets as part of the Great North Bog initiative.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “Rising to the challenge of combating climate change and improving biodiversity are key priorities for us. Moorland managers have invested significant time and money to play their part in carbon capture, improving habitats for rare wildlife and mitigating the risk of downstream flooding.

“These results show how our members are delivering on their commitment to restore historically damaged areas of peat, manage water storage and plant trees where appropriate to ensure the wide-ranging benefits from these conservation measures can be realised. However, there needs to be a concerted effort across all peatlands to meet government targets – beyond what we can contribute.”

Dr Tim Thom, Peatland Programme Manager at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said:

“It’s great to see moor owners rising to the challenge of climate change. Since 2009, we’ve worked with Moorland Association members and other landowners to bring over 31,000 hectares of Yorkshire’s peatlands into restoration management. We looking forward to getting to work with them on the remaining moors in the years to come.”

Moorland Association members look after around 200,000 hectares of deep peat mostly in recovering condition and many of the areas requiring revegetation are small patches. These bare patches of peat are mainly due to erosion caused by agricultural drains dug in the 1950s and 60s, residual damage from wildfires and historic industrial pollution.

Meanwhile 86 per cent of peatland emissions come from intensively cultivated lowland peat soils, such as The Fens where significant restoration is yet to start.

Significantly, land management for grouse shooting involves permanent vegetation cover on upland areas which keeps the peat in good condition, unlike the intensive agriculture practised in lowland peat areas, where the soil is drained, ploughed and fertilized for intensive grazing and crop production. It is also still legal to dig lowland peat for horticultural sale and it is readily available at garden centres.

West Arkengarthdale Moor in the Yorkshire Dales is one of the estates at the forefront of peatland restoration, working closely with Yorkshire Peat Partnership. Over the past ten years, 1,395 hectares (3,447 acres) have been restored, an area equivalent to 2,300 football pitches. This work will have saved CO2 emissions equivalent to taking 12,739 cars off the road per year.

Headkeeper Nigel Winter said: “The estate is committed to ensuring the peat is in prime condition and capable of storing the maximum amount of carbon possible. About 800 bags of heather brash have been brought in, often by helicopter, to cover areas of bare peat and enable mosses and plants to grow. The restoration work began ten years ago with the first round of blocking moorland grips – three quarters of this work has now been completed. We’ve also put in stone dams in some areas to prevent water run-off and wooden dams on Lad Gill to slow the water down.

“It has made a huge difference – for example the Arkle beck now flows more slowly and the run-off has slowed considerably. This beck leads into the River Swale so it should also help prevent downstream flooding.”


Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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