Walkers on Kinder Scout should not be alarmed to see spaceman-like figures spraying green slime all over areas of Peak District moor.

They are part of a team of conservationists conducting scientific trials on the best way to re-introduce sphagnum moss onto peat moors devastated by environmental changes over the past 150 years.

The reintroduction of sphagnum moss is key to rebuilding blanket bogs by preventing erosion and helping to:

  • improve our drinking water quality
  • reduce flood risk
  • restrict wildfires
  • mitigate climate change by storing carbon dioxide
  • regenerate wildlife habitats

The Moors for the Future Partnership is working with the Environment Agency and National Trust, as part of the Peatland Restoration Project, to pioneer these globally important trials on an 80-hectare site on Kinder Scout, the highest plateau in the Peak District National Park.

Damaged peat bogs have been termed “a climate time bomb”, as climate change is likely to increase the rate at which they break down.

Without their protective sphagnum based vegetation, lost during 150 years of atmospheric pollution and wildfires, bogs release more carbon into the atmosphere instead of storing it, send sediment downstream into our reservoirs, don’t hold back downpours that can flood our towns and countryside and increase the likelihood of more wildfires, accelerating the whole process.

Re-introducing sphagnum, and increasing the wetness of the bog, reverses that process, and the Kinder trials aim to establish the best way to do that over the next three to five years – providing evidence for use on other damaged sites worldwide.

The scientists are testing four different methods on the northern edge of Kinder Scout:

  • SoluMoss – the “green slime” – an innovative technique developed with specialist firm Micropropagation Services which embeds sphagnum in strands of nutritious gel to be sprayed from a backpack.
  • BeadaMoss – sphagnum embedded in thousands of gel-beads, a technique developed several years ago for Moors for the Future, scattered by hand.
  • PlugaMoss – sphagnum cultivated as plug-plants for individual planting by hand.
  • Hummocks – handfuls of wild sphagnum, collected sustainably from other sites and replanted by hand, a technique developed by the RSPB.

The partners are also leaving one patch untouched to see what nature does on its own, and assessing the cost-effectiveness of the different methods.

In addition they are trying to find the best source for sphagnum hummocks – using sites nearby, or from conifer plantations where it grows as a by-product, or from pristine healthy blanket bog on Sites of Special Scientific Interest elsewhere in the UK.

And on one site they are monitoring the effect of 35,000 sphagnum plug-plants on water run-off, measuring its impact on the flow and volume of storm downpours downstream.

The Moors for the Future Partnership is carrying out the work, funded by the Environment Agency, on behalf of the National Trust who care for the land.

These are key partners, although they are also working with the RSPB, United Utilities, Natural England and Yorkshire Water.

Matt Buckler, conservation programme manager for Moors for the Future, said: “These trials are the culmination of six years research and development with our partners. Together we are leading the way to establishing sphagnum moss, which is the key activity for sustainable moorland restoration in this country and many countries around the world.”

Jon Stewart, General Manager for the Peak District National Trust, said: “Kinder Scout is a National Nature Reserve and the site of a pioneering mass trespass in the 1930s that led the way to open access to the moors. It is fitting that it is pioneering once again as the site of these trials which are of global importance to moorland restoration.”

Mark Haslam, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We hope the trials will provide vital scientific evidence on the best way to rebuild these lost eco-systems which have wide-reaching benefits for society. We believe that working with nature, along with man-made defences, will give us the greatest resilience to flooding, fires and climate change.”

And as for those walkers pondering the point of the space-suit clad figure with the backpack, they can look forward to views of green moors, vibrant with wildlife, instead of barren wastelands.