Moorland degradation in the Forest of Bowland

One of the joys of living on the edge of the Forest of Bowland is being able to explore it on foot and cycle. Much was only opened up by the CROW act of 2000 and the paths are often not well-defined. One of my common walks is up Hawthornthwaite Fell from Catshaw. The fell, seen from below Jubilee Tower, has a castellated appearance due to peat erosion as is clear on the left of the photo (sept 2016)

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Edit 27/4 from EU http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-17-1045_en.htm Which highlights my concerns.

Nature: Commission calls on the UNITED KINGDOM to protect blanket bog habitats

The Commission is urging the United Kingdom to stop burning blanket bog habitats within upland Natura 2000 sites in England and to take measures to restore the damaged habitats. Blanket bogs are considered to be priority habitats under the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) when they are active (i.e. non-degraded), and their conservation status in England is seriously declining. For a number of years, the UK authorities allowed the damaging practice of burning blanket bogs within the English Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), without the appropriate assessment required by the Habitats Directive. The Commission warned the United Kingdom of those breaches of the Habitats Directive in a letter of formal notice sent in April 2016. As the burning of blanket bog habitats within the protected sites still continues, a final warning is now sent. The UK has two months to provide a response; otherwise, the case may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.

 

I went up on a windy day in early April using a shooters’ track. The hillside was typical heather more demonstrating burning of heather, which takes several years to re-grow. The signs and smell of recent burning were evident.

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As I left the end of the track, I found some serious burning , which has shown no re-growth since autumn 2015. There has been much erosion in heavy rain.

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More recent burning.

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The path upwards was ill-defined over rough grassy moorland. As I reached the fence at the watershed I was met with squawking sea-gulls worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. That required a video. It is a major nesting ground for sea gulls and sadly there are not enough raptors to gobble up the chicks and eggs. I so rarely see even a buzzard, though 10 years ago I was heckled by three hen harriers, and was probably close to their nest.

Every so often the moor was replaced by a small pool, with the beautiful emarld green of sphagnum.

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In summer , cotton grass flowers

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And so to the top of Hawthornthwaite Fell with its felled trig point. When I first came up in 2003 the Trig point was 10 ft in the air as a monument to peat vandalism but was toppled a few years ago. The area is now a hollow as up to 10 foot of peat has disappeared in the century since the OS planted their trig point with a deep base. Then you would be walking above the height of the white post to be on the same level as the peat behind.

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There are a few small pools like this one which even has some sphagnum. I confess to damning it up in 2016 and note the improvement. The problem is to be seen from the post looking north where the peat has eroded into channels. This is the castellation of the first photo.

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On the RH of the fence United Utilities has done some peat restoration but the effects are hampered as the peat has disappeared down to the mineral base, almost exposing the Pendle Grit below. Some grasses grow and there are a few pools

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a close up of the toppled Trig Point, which should be an icon to peat degradation

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And finally four more shots to show how the peat has gone.

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There are many places in the Forest of Bowland where peat restoration has started with slow and steady results. On one fell  I could walk dry shod at any time of the year, whatever the weather as the peat had dried out. Now it is superbly soggy even in summer and is getting soggier.

On the principles of peat restoration I am most definitely an amateur as my background is geology, but am passably informed on mountain landscapes and vegetation. It is fantastic the way peat restoration has been done all over the Pennines, but like planting trees the best time is 30 years ago.

The gains are tremendous and with time the sphagnum could gobble up some carbon too.

Already in places wildlife has benefited .

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To follow this up the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme (twitter; @IUCNpeat ) gives much technical stuff and gives both hope and an indication of the task ahead. 

As an amateur I shall not comment scientifically lest I truly put my foot in it !!!!

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I may have trodden on some toes too……………..

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