This February, Moors for the Future Partnership is celebrating 21 years of restoring the moors of the Peak District and South Pennines.

When the Partnership was formed in 2003, the moorlands of the Peak District were facing environmental catastrophe, with vast stretches of peatlands damaged by a legacy of industrial pollution. This damage meant that carbon, which would be stored in healthy blanket bog, was released as the bare peat eroded, contributing to climate change. It was essential that this situation be turned around, and over the last 21 years, the Partnership has restored over 250 square kilometres of blanket bog, with vegetation returned to large areas of once bare peat.

Alongside the Partnership’s moorland restoration work, an in-depth science programme has been testing and honing techniques and monitoring the effects of the work on the moorland landscape.

On Combs Moss, near Buxton in Derbyshire, the Partnership is bringing many of its monitoring techniques together in one place for the first time, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the effects of their work. As part of the Moor Green Investment project – supported by the Environment Agency, NestlĂ© Waters UK, Harris & Sheldon Group, and Severn Trent Water – the Partnership, alongside scientists from the University of Derby, is monitoring the effects of moorland restoration in the site. This research is expected to last for five years.

At the centre of the restoration work taking place at Combs Moss is the need to slow down the flow of water from the moors. Onsite equipment measures water flow over the surface and in gullies, allowing the Partnership to compare the flow of water from the site before and after restoration (including planting sphagnum moss and constructing gully blocks to slow the flow of water from the site), improving understanding of ‘peak flow’ and its impact downstream.

The Partnership is installing bunds – long, low mounds which retain water in shallow pools behind them, releasing water at a slower rate. Bunds are a relatively new technique for re-wetting the moors that don’t introduce any other material to the site. Monitoring work will assess how much carbon dioxide is released by this restoration process, as well as any methane that might be released by the creation of these areas of standing water. The Partnership also calculates and monitors how much carbon will be captured in the restored bog, to make sure the carbon impact is positive in the long-term.

There will be vegetation surveys – plotting which moorland species are thriving on the site – and also dipwell monitoring – a low-tech but highly effective technique involving blowing down a tube to measure how much the ground is holding water, which will be conducted by volunteers over the autumn and winter months.

While these techniques have been utilised previously on other sites, the Combs Moss site is unique in bringing all these methods together in one area, where all the multiple benefits of peatland restoration can be measured and its lessons learned.

Dr Kirsten Lees, Lecturer in Zero Carbon at the University of Derby says, “Gully blocking, bunding and vegetation planting have all been used in peatland projects across the UK, and the findings from this research will help restoration groups to channel funding into the most effective projects, improving carbon storage and flood limitation across our upland environments.”

Chris Dean, Moors for the Future Partnership Manager, says, “Carrying out research and taking actions based on evidence are key to everything we do. We could not have made the achievements of the last 21 years without the input of our science and monitoring team, rigorously testing the effects that work has had on areas of once damaged moorland. The scale of our work has been achieved through partnership working and the Combs Moss work is a unique collaboration between public and private finance. We are also pleased to be working alongside University of Derby to test this work in such a concentrated area, and to be supported by the landowners, with the gamekeeper helping to check and upload data from our monitoring sites. It is this kind of initiative that aims to continue our work for the next 21 years.”