Moors For The Future is Peak District National Park based partnership of public and private organisations working to promote and protect UK moorland. One of their ongoing projects is to help regenerate the precious upland blanket bogs by replanting the vital sphagnum moss. Here we explain why this work is so important.
A fluffy green carpet
If you’ve walked the Peak District moorlands you’ll have met Sphagnum Moss. It’s that carpet of fluffy green moss that sits proudly on the peat moors. If you have seen it, you’ve actually just met one of the areas most important plants. Here’s why.
Although you might look at sphagnum moss and see a continuous carpet, what you are seeing is a host of very small plants growing in close proximity to each other. Sometimes the plant density gets so thick they form into a raised spongy mound. You often see sphagnum as light green colour, but there are several species and the colour can vary. You will find from red through to pink or orange. Sphagnum moss grows from spores produced in fruiting bodies called capsules.
It’s a lovely feature of the Peak District National Park. Of course, it can also be found in many other parts of the UK. It is also a vital part of the eco system.
Why is it important?
Put simply, sphagnum moss is an essential component of the peat moorlands. Without these mosses, the blanket bogs of the area couldn’t survive.
Firstly, decomposed sphagnum moss is a key component of peat (you will sometimes hear it referred to as peat moss). Over thousands of years the decomposed moss has formed into the blanket bogs that are now a unique feature of the area. The process happens extremely slowly and that means damage to the peat will also take a long time to recover. Of course, it can only recover if there is more moss to decay and replace it.
Peat is also a huge carbon store. The UN Environment website says the world’s peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the planets forests. A vast and essential resource. As peat is destroyed the carbon released is a major factor in the climate emergency.
CO2 emissions from drained or burned peatlands are said to equate to 10% of all annual fossil fuel emissions. Conversely, by preserving peatlands we can massively reduce the release of carbon and avoid the global heating consequences.
The second key feature of sphagnum moss is its amazing ability to hold up to 8 times its weight in water. This helps retain moisture to protect the peat and also allows the storage of essential nutrients. This is especially important on upland areas where vegetation is fed by rainwater and snowmelt rather than by ground water.
Sphagnum moss also helps to prevent the peat from washing away. Peat is very soft and prone to damage. The moss, by helping to bind the peat together, helps create a protective layer and helps to prevent erosion.
A tough but thriving environment
The Peak District moorlands are a tough environment and yet wildlife stills thrives. There are many species that call the moorlands home including, as just a few examples, various ground nesting birds, heath butterflies and mountain hares.
Many other plant species also live here. From bilberry to common heather and from cotton grass to a variety of lichens. Infact, the Peak District National Park website reports that the park supports 161 species of flora and fauna identified as priorities in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Moors For The Future
There are many organisations working to protect the Peak District uplands, but one of the key players is certainly the Moors For The Future Partnership. This is a combo of public and private organisations working to promote and protect UK moorland. Moors For The Future is based in Edale and much of the work they carry out is in the national park.
The work of the partnership is varied and includes everything from building and maintaining footpaths to undertaking wildlife research. It also undertakes a vast amount of work protecting the moorland landscape. The Moors For The Future website says the Dark Peak and West Pennines has been described as the most degraded upland landscape in Europe and possibly the world.
A particular victim of this degradation are the blanket bogs. Two centuries of atmospheric pollution and other factors have degraded vast areas leaving exposed and vulnerable bare peat.
Moors For The Future staff and volunteers help to stabilise and revegetate the bare peat. To see the way this can radically improve the moorland please compare the photos above. They also work to raise the water table to provide the wet conditions for healthy bog. Finally, they have a vast sphagnum moss and moorland plants planting programme aimed at providing the habitat to keep the moorland healthy.
The partnership are always delighted to hear from anyone keen to volunteer in their essential work and donations are always welcomed. Over the coming week our partners at the Peak District National Park Foundation are also raising money to support their work via The Big Give. Please do consider donating. They are helping the local area, but their work affects us all.