Northumberland National Park, North Pennines AONB, Wildlife Trust join forces to protect Simonside wetland
A group of hardy volunteers will be taking to the hills over the next few weeks in a bid to help protect a rare and important piece of bog in the Simonside Hills.
On Simonside’s western flank between the heights of Tosson Hill and Ravensheugh is an area of heather and blanket bog called Boddle Moss that is one of Europe’s Special Areas of Conservation.
In October, Northumberland National Park, North Pennines AONB Partnership and Northumberland Wildlife Trust are joining forces to protect this precious wetland as part of the shared work of the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership. Boddle Moss is a deep peat area that provides an important service to wildlife and the people in the Coquet Valley below Simonside.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteers are undertaking the bog restoration spadework with National Park staff and the work is being funded through the North Pennines AONB Partnership.
Blanket bogs are important stores of carbon and maintaining blanket bogs on the flat areas on the top of the Simonside ridge and deep peat areas such as Boddle Moss and Caudhole Moss contributes to reducing the effects of climate change.
Peat is formed in waterlogged conditions which prevents the plants, mostly sphagnum mosses, decaying in the normal way when they die. Instead, they build up very slowly to form peat. Digging ditches to drain bogs used to be common, as it dried out the surface so that sheep could graze or red grouse could nest. Unfortunately, this ruins the bogs too – they need to be waterlogged so that peat can continue to form and bog plants can grow.
Conservationists and landowners are now blocking ditches with dams to re-wet and protect these important habitats.
Grips are straight drainage channels dug into the ground, often visible on aerial maps as they form a herring-bone pattern. They were dug for drainage from the 1950s onwards, either to help with access for farm machinery or, by drying out the land, to favour conditions for heather or grass grazing.
These days we recognise the value of preserving a bog habitat on peat sites, for instance, a healthy, wet peatland site can help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Keeping peatlands wet also helps regulate water flow and water quality further downstream.
A further benefit is that during hot dry summers the bogs still remain wet and provide important feeding places for birds. There are small insects and grubs in wet areas for birds and their chicks to feed on. Keeping the bogs wet helps birds stay resilient in the face of climate change.
Northumberland National Park contains some very important bogs, or mires. Over the past 10,000 years bogs have developed in cool, wet conditions which allow peat to form from slowly decaying mosses. Peat forms at about 1mm every year, so a peat depth of over 7m at Boddle Moss dates back to when farming started in Britain, around 5000 BC.
The living part of the mire is best viewed at close quarters where you can see the intricate, delicate plants that live there. Fluffy cotton grass is showy in spring, while later in the year, yellow bog asphodel and pink bog rosemary stand out amongst the carpets of sphagnum mosses. The Simonside hills are home to rare plants such as sundews, dwarf cornel and bog myrtle, cloudberry and crowberry. The mixed heather and bog provides a welcoming habitat for grouse, merlin, hen harrier, mountain bumblebee, golden plover and the large heath butterfly.
Anthony Johnston is leading the Wildlife Trust volunteers using plastic piling driven into the peat with rubber mallets. He said:
“Volunteers find this task very rewarding because within about half an hour water is already visibly rising behind the piling dams. Simonside is a great place to work as the views are so fabulous in the bright early autumn sunshine.”
The benefits of grip blocking are that the water is kept cleaner. Boddle Moss feeds into the Chartner Burn and then into the River Coquet; one of the country’s cleanest salmon and trout rivers.
Paul Leadbitter, Peatland Programme Manager with the North Pennines AONB Partnership said:
“Peatlands are the rainforests of the UK, and restoring this internationally important habitat is a priority. The funding of peatland restoration work in the National Park is a tangible example of how we are working with our partners at the Local Nature Partnership level.”
Around 200 plastic piling dams will be put in over 6 days by the volunteers. Plastic piling is a technique pioneered in the Border Mires about 10 years ago.
At the same time, the volunteers are undertaking similar work at Whitelee Nature Reserve just outside the National Park near Byrness, also funded by the North Pennines.
Abi Mansley, Border Uplands project officer who is coordinating the work said:
“It is great to see the volunteers working to help stabilise this fragile, beautiful and peaceful habitat. The practical work is supported by so many partners and organisations coming together, including the gamekeeper’s help actually transporting the plastic piling to site.”
The Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership is a ground-breaking partnership stretching 115 miles, from North Yorkshire to the Scottish border. It covers four, nationally-protected landscapes with a common set of species, habitats and land uses. As well as Northumberland National Park, partners are Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Yorkshire Dales National Park, and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Local Nature Partnerships were introduced by the Natural Environment White Paper published in June 2011 and aim to develop a shared local vision for a healthy natural environment and to co-ordinate action across organisations, making best use of resources, sharing best practice and undertaking linked projects across a wide area for maximum benefit.
Category: Northumberland National Park