On World Wildlife Day, we celebrate the blanket bog peatlands that cloak the tops of the moors and are home to a wonderful array of upland species, from carnivorous plants to the burbling call of the curlew, to the new nocturnal visitors of foraging bats. Blanket bogs are special peatlands that are extremely fragile and many have been damaged by centuries of pollution, threatening the special wildlife communities they support.

Moors for the Future Partnership is working to reverse the fate of degraded blanket bog peatlands on the moors. Over the last 20 years, the Partnership has restored 35km2 of moorland in the Peak District and South Pennines. Before restoration, these landscapes were barren swathes of bare peat that offered little in the way of food or shelter for peatland species, harsh conditions that even the most resilient plants could not tolerate. As bogs gradually return to healthy condition, peatland plants will enhance the habitat for a range of wildlife to thrive in once again.

Moors for the Future Partnership has produced a series of films as part of the MoorLIFE 2020 project to celebrate the benefits of blanket bog peatlands and why they are worth protecting. The film released today, on World Wildlife Day, features a Peak District National Trust Ranger showing that blanket bogs are worth protecting because of the wide range of wildlife that they support.

Blanket bogs are a type of peatland that when in healthy condition, are waterlogged, nutrient-poor and acidic. Although that may sound inhospitable, they are vital habitats for special plants, birds and insects, many of which can only live or breed in these special habitats. Sphagnum mosses are essential for building blanket bog peatlands here. Growing through these mosses are lichens, shrubs and berries. A careful look in summer months reveals shiny red cowberry and the dark-blue, almost black cluster of juicy bilberries. Heather is abundant, and the amber of fruiting cloudberries creep low on the ground. The tiny sundew catches insects with its sticky-haired leaves. There are plants that are more conspicuous too, like the common and hare’s-tail cotton grasses with their fluffy, white seed heads.

This network of bog plants support a wealth of insects and other invertebrates, some now rare because active blanket bog is so scarce itself. These invertebrates have their own display of vibrant colour, from the vivid violet ground beetle, to the metallic sheen of the green hairstreak butterfly, to the eye-catching common hawker dragonfly. Important in their own right, these invertebrates support other wildlife too. In spring, wading birds like snipe, dunlin and curlew return year after year to nest on blanket bogs and raise their young. The invertebrates are an essential source of protein for their chicks and further up the food chain, supports species such as the majestic Short-eared owl. National Trust Ranger, Kait Jones, explains in the video released today, how these species all rely on this healthy peatland and moorland.

The transformations of landscapes from the blackened expanses of lifeless bare peat, to luscious wet greenery is one that is easy to see with the naked eye. However, tracking the return of invertebrate life is a more difficult feat. Recently, some five different species of bats were recorded foraging atop a restored area of Kinder Scout as part of a joint monitoring programme between the Partnership and Derbyshire Bat Group. The discovery is the highest altitude of bats ever recorded in Derbyshire – at 613 metres, the recording is just below the highest point in the county, a fantastic discovery that also indicates that invertebrates are making themselves at home in sufficient numbers to attract foraging bats. This is a good sign that the landscape is on an upward trajectory of recovery.

Blanket bog peatlands are worth protecting because of the wide range of wildlife that they support. Watch the video released today, explaining why here:

Help spread the word 

Global Peatlands Initiative coordinator, Dianna Kopansky, commented

“It is wonderful to see peatlands being recognised and valued for the many roles they play as a holistic vital and nature thriving ecosystem. World Wildlife Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the rich biodiversity of these special carbon dense landscapes, and highlight the dynamic range of species that thrive in the uplands when the right restoration actions are taken.

This work by Moors for the Future Partnership to restore blanket bog peatlands across the Peak District and South Pennines is critical to show how these restoration techniques are helping not just the landscape to recover, but also enhancing the habitat to enable upland wildlife to survive and thrive. It is a significant demonstration of the biodiversity that these valuable ecosystems are able to support when given a much needed helping hand.’’

Head of Moors for the Future Partnership, Chris Dean, commented,

‘’Our work started 20 years ago and is far from over, however we can already see significant improvements to the habitat in our restoration areas.

The last few months have seen the Partnership conclude conservation work under the major project MoorLIFE 2020. Over the course of the 6-year project, funded by the EU LIFE Programme, Moors for the Future Partnership has planted nearly 3 million sphagnum moss plug plants, each planted into the ground by hand. Sphagnum moss is a key building block of an active blanket bog peatland. Its reintroduction to the landscape is crucial for nature as the small plugs of moss help to hold more water on the moors, slowing the flow whilst also providing a microclimate that creates better conditions for moorland species to establish and gives invertebrates an important place to shelter from the harsh conditions of the moorland environment.

Before the sphagnum planting, however, comes stabilising the peat. With no roots to hold the peat down, it is vulnerable to drying out in the sun and carried off in the wind or else washed into the reservoirs downstream. Under MoorLIFE 2020, the team have spread nearly 11,000 bags of heather brash – that is enough chopped up heather to fill more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools. The seed-rich heather brash acts as a protective layer over the peat, helping to keep the peat on the moors and providing a microclimate that gives plants a chance to take root. This work is crucial to keeping carbon-rich peat in the uplands, but it also goes a long way to enhancing the habitat for the upland species that call the moors home. As well as the well-known and visible upland plant-life and animals, these habitats also benefit other species that take advantage of the improved conditions under the cover of darkness, such as our newly discovered nocturnal foragers, bats.’'

This release is part of the Global Peat Press Project (GP3) campaign, bringing together international partners to highlight the importance of peatlands as vulnerable but valuable ecosystems. It is a coordinated media outreach from the UNEP’s Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) and the North Pennines AONB Partnership to promote the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). It was conceived to raise awareness and enthusiasm about the role of peatlands in climate action in the run-up to the UNFCCC COP26 in November, and has now pivoted to focus on the vital importance of peatlands for nature, aiming to build momentum and interest in advance of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in April next year. A relay of stories from peatland projects worldwide, GP3 started with the UK, as the host of COP26, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland.

The relay has already featured:

  • the North Pennines AONB
  • the Care-Peat project in Belgium
  • NUI Galway/ Insight Centre
  • Five EU transnational projects (Carbon Connects, Care-Peat, DESIRE, LIFE Peat Restore, and
  • Bax & Company who straddle the UK, Spain and The Netherlands
  • Ulster Wildlife
  • The Lancashire Wildlife Trust
  • The GPI and EUROSITE Peatlands Social Media Campaign
  • NABU
  • Moors for the Future Partnership
  • Mets√§hallitus with its Hydrology LIFE Project
  • Natural Resources Wales with the LIFE Welsh Raised Bogs Project
  • Community Wetlands Forum and the Landscape Finance Lab
  • Terra Motion
  • Green Restoration Ireland Coop (GRI)
  • a major restoration effort in Belarus recognized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and
    Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus
  • a second release from Ulster Wildlife
  • The World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) at the UN
  • Griefswald Mire Centre in Germany
  • Conservatoires d’√©spaces naturels in France
  • the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
  • a second contribution from the North Pennines AONB
  • Baltic Environmental Forum Lithuania
  • Yorkshire Peat Partnership
  • APB-BirdLife Belarus
  • Frankfurt Zoological Society
  • Tompkins Conservation and Rewilding Argentina
  • Wetlands International
    and now the baton is handed to Moors for the Future Partnership.

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