Sphagnum Project


This is a research and development project into a revolutionary new technique with major implications for the restoration of Blanket Bogs across the UK and Europe and is designed to investigate the potential for carrying out the regeneration of Sphagnum on any degraded moorland site. 

The Sphagnum propagation project is funded by the Co-operative Foundation and Natural England.

 Sphagnum capillifolium in-situ
Matt Buckler, Conservation Works Manager for Moors for the Future, said:
“All our works to date have been about stabilising the ground until peat forming vegetation can develop. Sphagnum is the most important peat forming plant and the glue that holds the whole blanket bog community together and so this project is probably the most important innovation in moorland restoration techniques”.
Sphagnum mosses are important in forming peat, but they are sensitive to atmospheric pollution. Since the industrial revolution, loss of Sphagnum mosses has been an important feature of the changes in Peak District and South Pennines blanket peat. This loss is accompanied by a drastic reduction in peat accumulation and drying of the peat.
Sphagnum regeneration will help to reduce peat loss. This in turn will be important in restarting other moorland prcesses such as carbon sequestration. Sphagnum regeneration will also help to restore water tables, contribute to flood defence through affecting the quantity and timing of water discharge, and help to improve water quality.  
There has been very little work on the large scale cultivation and spreading of Sphagnum for restoration purposes. 

Why we are doing this

The Sphagnum Propagation Project is investigating the possibility of regenerating and reintroducing Sphagnum on a wide range of degraded moorland sites.
The project is looking at whether Sphagnum can survive on habitats that are suffering or have suffered high levels of atmospheric pollution, and at the effects of pollution on the growth of Sphagnum. It covers the Sphagnum species that will be established, together with the effects of other moorland restoration techniques on this important group of species.
The project aims to identify practical ways to culture, transport and establish Sphagnum on large areas of degraded habitat.
Expertise developed within the project will be applicable to other upland areas within the UK and Europe.

What we set out to do when this five-year project started in August 2007

1.       Undertake a baseline survey in the Peak District and comparison sites in the North and South Pennines. This will provide data on the diversity, abundance and condition of Sphagnum species on a variety of sites.
2.       Establish a series of small scale monitoring sites and a large trial site on Black Hill, to identify a method for mass culture of Sphagnum. Work on these sites will involve identifying species and finding the most suitable methods for:
  • Culturing different sphagnum species on a large scale
  • Transporting Sphagnum to remote degraded upland sites
  • Inoculation of degraded sites, including any treatments to support Sphagnum survival

Sphagnum seeding trial on Black Hill

Sphagnum seeding trial on Black Hill

3.       The Sphagnum produced in the previous phase of the project will be introduced to experimental plots using the techniques identified. Results will be monitored and analysed.  

What we have achieved to date

  1. Completed the baseline survey. This showed that the main factor limiting the distribution of Sphagnum in the Peak District is a lack of Sphagnum as a source of material due to historical pollution, rather than any current chemical or water table problems in the moors.
  2. Small-scale monitoring sites have been established and monitoring is underway, through a joint PhD student with Manchester Metropolitan University. 
  3. In a project funded by the Cooperative Foundation,  Moors for the Future Partnership in conjunction with Micropropagation Services have developed a way of propagating the moss by encapsulating it within beads of liquid. The moss will eventually grow out through the wall of the bead, and colonise the areas the beads are spread on.
  4. Small-scale trials of the beads have been successful under closely controlled conditions, large-scale trials on the moors with the harsh conditions that are found there are still on-going.  These works have produced enough material for a helicopter trial, spreading material over 1 hectare.
  5. Works to develop the methods for applying the material using helicopters to spread the moss beads over the rough terrain are ongoing

What we will produce by 2012

  • A report (850kb) and various appendices, including maps (4.74MB) showing the results of the baseline survey.
  • A summary of ways to reintroduce Sphagnum on a large scale, including results from the inoculation experiments. This will identify the most effective species in different situations, and include all possible methods for Sphagnum culture, transportation and inoculation. First findings from this project are available here (2.6MB, opens in a new window).


Moss beads ready for spreading


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