Volunteers working on the moors above Dove Stone reservoir near Oldham, are helping to turn around the fortunes of a rather unassuming plant. This is sphagnum moss, and it might not look like much, but it’s the starting point for a crucially-important habitat, blanket bog.
Ed Lawrence works for landowner United Utilities as a wildlife warden, and he explains why a water company would be interested in landscape restoration.
“Effectively, sphagnum moss is a building block of the deep peat habitat. It keeps the soil underneath it saturated, so it decomposes very slowly, stopping the peat degrading, which is when it washes off and goes into our reservoirs. This is where we’re getting all of our water from – it falls on here, on the land, and it comes into the reservoirs, and from there onto the treatment works. Our view of catchment management is that if we can improve the land, change the vegetation type, to something that will deliver better quality raw water into our reservoir, it can then reduce treatment costs, and benefit the customer down at the treatment works.”
United Utilities manages the water catchment land together with the RSPB, and it was this partnership approach to bog restoration that has been recognised with a major European conservation award, the Natura 2000 award.
[Jon Bird] “It means a great deal, getting this recognition, accepting this on behalf of our stakeholders, such as Natural England, National Park in the Peak District, our partners United Utilities, and for all the fantastic volunteers that got involved over the project. It goes out to them.”
Kate Hanley from the RSPB works with the volunteers, whatever the weather. “So, although it’s a really nice day today, for up here, most of our sphagnum work is late summer and into the autumn, and also into the winter as well, and it can be really quite unpleasant when there’s sleet coming down, and it’s really cold and you’re working in water all the time. And I think that really just goes to show the strength and the commitment of our volunteers to the work that the partnership’s doing here is that they come back time and time again, and they do this work through such horrible weather, and it’s because they know that it’s really important and it really makes a difference to the place that they live in.”
[Denzil Broadhurst] “I live locally, yeah I live in Uppermill, yes, which is only a couple of miles just over the hill from here. This area is an area that I’ve known all my life, you know, so I know what it was like, you know, forty, fifty years back, with huge areas of bare peat, and I’ve seen it change so much, especially over the last 10 or 5 years, it’s been fantastic, yes.”
Dave O’Hara from the RSPB says he’s seen a huge improvement in the numbers and variety of wildlife.
[Dave O’Hara] “It’s a very specialised wildlife community on these bogs, very rare as well, and birds like golden plover, curlew and dunlin, have all increased significantly on these bogs, since restoration work has been underway. We’ve also seen a range of other benefits, birds like skylark if you’ve heard so many of today, have really increased again as the bogs become healthier.”
[Ed Lawrence] “It’s been a hugely successful and beneficial partnership with the RSPB. I think it’s primarily we’re very different organisations with obviously very different functions, a bird conservation charity, and a water company, but when we look at this land and this habitat around us, our vision for what we would like to see here, is absolutely shared. By improving the habitat, we’re improving the water quality, we’re improving it for biodiversity, and we’re also improving it for the many people, visitors who come and visit this area as well. So there’s a lot of gains for everyone.”