03 Mar Peatland restoration
Much of the River Rede catchment flows from the blanket bogs on the high hills around the valley. These peatlands help regulate the flow of the river and provide a source of water through the year, even in times of drought. Damage to these peatlands through past practices including inappropriate grazing, drainage and burning has resulted in degraded areas of peat. These often drain more quickly than a pristine bog and the erosion complexes allow water to pick up brown colouration and particles of peat. Increased silt in the rivers results in poorer water quality making it less suitable for key species such as freshwater pearl mussels.
The peatlands are also home to a unique set of plants which, on the higher ground, includes cloudberry, deer grass and cross leaved heath. Cotton grasses and sphagnum mosses make up the bulk of the peatland plants and these are easily lost when areas become degraded or eroded. Many of these peatland sites are within SSSI but others are undesignated yet are still as important in terms of water quality management.
A number of important bird species are associated with good quality blanket bog such as dunlin, golden plover and hen harrier. These species are all of conservation concern and protection of their habitat will help secure their survival into the future.
The aim of the project is to repair key areas of peat erosion and degradation, and in the process trial new and novel techniques in peatland restoration particularly give the remote locations of some of these areas. Addressing peat degradation will also have a positive impact on water quality in the River Rede. Key activities will be:
- Removal of conifers – conifers damage peatlands through transpiration, drying out the bog, and through shading, killing the underlying vegetation. Large conifers can be removed through various harvesting means while smaller ones are usually felled to waste. Where bogs are close to plantation self-seeded trees can pose an ongoing problem and need to be removed on a periodic basis.
- Ditch blocking or reprofiling – drainage ditches draw down water levels on peatland sites reducing water levels, affecting vegetation and reducing the effectiveness of the bog to control flows. These ditches can be blocked by conventional means such as peat plugs or plastic piling dams raising water levels across the site. In other cases it is important to prevent further erosion and help colonisation of vegetation by using materials such as coir rolls.
Sites which will be the focus of this work include Whitelee National Nature Reserve, Otterburn Training Area, Steng Moss, East Woodburn Common, part of the Ray Estate, Birdhope, and Evistones.