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Work starts to save Cumbria’s precious peatlands

Digger at work on peatland restoration at Matterdale Common.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust has announced that it has just begun work at several sites around Cumbria to save the county’s precious peatland.

Diggers can be seen working on four sites: Scales Farm near Penrith; Matterdale Common near Ullswater; on Tebay Common and at Mardale Common near Haweswater. These works have been funded by the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Alison Whalley, Environment Agency Project Manager stated: “The Environment Agency and DEFRA seek to work in partnership to deliver multiple benefits for people and wildlife.  Peatlands are a vital ecosystem and restoring degraded areas provides a wide range of benefits.”

Specialist contractors are using diggers to restore the damaged peatlands – known more commonly as bogs – by creating dams to prevent water flowing off the sites, and restoring bare peat faces that have been eroded. Altogether around 350 hectares of damaged peatland – that’s roughly equivalent to the size of 350 rugby pitches – will be restored in just three months.

Susie Lane

Susie Lane, Peatland Restoration Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust, explains why this work is important: “These major restoration projects will bring many benefits to Cumbria through the restoration of the sites.  Healthy peatlands can hold large amounts of water and slow the flow of water coming off the hills.  Peatlands are also great at storing carbon so the healthier the bog is, the better for the environment! And some specialised plant species, such as sundew, which catch small insects on their sticky leaves, rely on peatlands to survive.  Many such species are threatened as the wet habitat they rely on has disappeared.”

While most peatland restoration is done by diggers, Simon Thomas of Cumbria Wildlife Trust shows that some of it is manual work. He’s building a dam made of heather at Matterdale Common, to help slow the flow of water.

Susie goes on to explain why these areas have been damaged or disappeared over time: “At least 70 per cent of English peatlands are damaged by drainage, heavy grazing, regular burning, cultivation, forestry or other management. Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s survey of bogs in the Lake District confirmed that most of them have been damaged. This is what prompted us get involved with peat restoration seven years ago. So if you’re out and about this month and see the diggers hard at work, you can rest assured that this is part of our commitment to helping Cumbria’s vital peatlands!”

Plants such as the oblong-leaved sundew thrive in restored peatland. Credit: Simon Thomas

The work is likely to last until the end of March and walkers near the sites are asked to avoid areas where the diggers are working, both for their safety and to enable to conservationists to carry out this important work.

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