How much moorland is there in the Peak District?
There are 522.4 square km of section 3 moorlands in the Peak District.
What are section 3 moorlands?
The National Park undertook a survey of moor and heath as a requirement of section 43 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This consisted of aerial photography interpretation and field survey work. Other mapped areas include limestone dale, limestone hill and heath, ancient woodland, and other semi-natural woodland. The Moors For the Future project use section 3 moorlands as our core area.
How does peat form?
Most of the peat across the Peak District is blanket peat which is predominantly a mixture of partially decayed plants that have accumulated in a waterlogged environment where the breakdown of plant material is reduced in anaerobic conditions. Here organic matter builds up at a greater rate than it is decomposed, forming peat. Peat has formed over thousands of years by the build up of layers of plants such as sphagnum moss, cotton grass and heathers. It is up to 4 metres deep in places. As the decomposition of organic matter by micro-organisms is reduced under waterlogged conditions, the decay rate and also the accumulation rate is controlled by the position of the water table. Often the development of pools, lakes and drainage systems can be seen dissecting the surface of the bog.
What is heather brash?
Heather brash is both baled heather (cut and baled in long stalks) and double chopped brash cut and bagged by a forage harvester. Heather is harvested from local moors in the autumn when it is rich in heather seed. The heather brash is then applied onto the worst eroded areas of blanket bog. This technique provides a soil level microclimate optimum for germination and growth of the seeds the project is applying to these areas and supplies fresh heather seed within the brash. In most cases the heather brash is delivered to site by helicopter and then spread by hand, a laborious and labour expensive task.
Why do we use heather brash?
Using heather brash is the equivalent of mulching your garden - the 'brash' contains seeds and also provides an excellent microclimate for the germination of both the nurse grass seeds and heather seeds.
What is a nurse crop?
A fast growing grass species is applied to provide initial surface stabilisation whilst the heather establishes. This nurse crop species will eventually die off after about 3 - 5 years by which time the heather should have established.
What seed mix do you use and why?
The Moors for the Future Project is using a seed mix which has been agreed with English Nature, who are responsible for protecting these conservation sites which the project is helping to restore. The species used in the seed mix are all either native to these blanket bog areas or are known through trials to act as a good soil stabilising and nurse crop (they grow quickly and provide some protection and moisture retention to assist the slowly establishing native plants).
Why doesn’t the vegetation regenerate by itself?
Decades of atmospheric pollution from the conurbations of Manchester and Sheffield have fallen in acidic rain on the Peak District Moorlands which have also suffered from high levels of sheep grazing. Under such extreme conditions any damage caused, by accidental and deliberate, deep-seated summer fires, has never had a chance of recovery.
What does the geotextile do?
Geojute is used on the steep sides of the large peat hags to stabilise the steep surface and give the reseeded areas some support until they get established. The geojute material is a coarse biodegradable netting, which is made in India.
Why is it necessary to use fertiliser on the moors as part of your restoration?
The most important factor in restoring the moors is the initial stabilising of the peat. This process gives a period of breathing space that enables the typical moorland vegetation to come back. The method that we use for this is a nurse grass crop made up of agricultural grasses.
These species are not hardy enough to survive the very low pH (2.5-3) and very low soil fertility (P-index <1) present on the moors and need our help in the form of granulated lime and fertiliser. These are both applied by helicopter at low levels that will not persist for more than a couple of years, by which time the species introduced in the heather brash, or by plug-planting or hydro-seeding, should have established, protecting the peat.
The lowland grass species, which are the first step on the road to recovery, will find the soil conditions without an annual application of lime and fertiliser too difficult, leaving only the native species. In 5 years time, the soil chemistry should be similar to that found at present and the nurse grass species should have started to die out.
Will the lime and fertiliser harm visitors to the moors?
The fertiliser is a blend of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium. The material is low toxicity and is not considered harmful in small quantities, even if eaten.
The low level application rate and the non-hazardous nature of the material mean that there is a low level of risk to those out enjoying the moors. We try to apply materials at times when the chance of flying over members of the public is reduced. For example, we would target popular walking routes early in the morning or late in the afternoon, ideally during the week. The helicopter pilot stop application if and when he sees people on the ground below and will do so, reducing the risk of visitors being showered by the material. The main problem comes from the pellets of material falling onto people below as this can sting on exposed skin.
Why can’t I let my dog run free on the moor? He is very well behaved and wouldn’t disturb anything…
Moors are rich in wildlife, including ground-nesting birds, which can be easily disturbed by free roaming dogs. Moors that are designated “open country” under the new countryside and rights of way act contains strict guidelines, including that dogs should be kept on leads of no more than 2m in length during the bird breeding season (1 March to end of August) and when in the vicinity of livestock. It is sometimes not obvious to a dog owner that their well-behaved pet is any sort of a threat, but to a ground nesting bird it is seen only as a predator. A dog putting a bird off a nest especially on a cold wet spring day can result in the failure of that clutch of eggs. Find out more at www.pawsonthemoors.org