Ancient bog on the North York Moors given a new lease of life in ambitious project

PUBLISHED: 17:56 21 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:28 24 October 2015

Petra Young from the Forestry Commission measures peat depth on May Moss

Petra Young from the Forestry Commission measures peat depth on May Moss

An ambitious Forestry Commission project to restore one of England's fragile upland bogs has passed a major milestone. Photographs by Tony Bartholomew

A timber mulcher in actionA timber mulcher in action

An ancient bog on the North York Moors has been given a new lease of life after the removal of thousands of moisture-draining trees. May Moss in Langdale Forest, near Fylingdales, is thought to be nearly 9,000 years old and experts say it is a key habitat for plants, birds and insects. It has come under threat since conifers were planted last century to bolster the nation’s timber reserves.

The trees, up to 170,000 of them, have been taking moisture from the ground and slowly drying out the ancient habitat. They have now been completely removed giving plants like sphagnum moss, cotton grass and bog rosemary, along with dragonflies, a greater chance of survival.

The work was carried out using a £170,000 grant from the SITA Trust along with backing from the North York Moors National Park Authority.
‘We have restored 150 hectares of the bog, twice as much as originally planned, by removing trees and blocking drainage channels to help the site retain rain water,’ said Brian Hicks, Forestry Commission ecologist.

‘The signs are encouraging with the return of vegetation to areas cleared of trees. Despite appearances this is a living habitat with about a metre of new peat being laid down every 1,000 years. Bogs may not have the profile of rainforests or ancient woods, but ecologically they are just as important.’

Specialist equipment which can mulch a tree in a few seconds was used in some parts of May Moss, along with conventional mechanised harvesters. Further ditch blocking work is being done by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership and vegetation surveys undertaken by North York Moors National Park volunteers under the guidance of the York-based PLACE Education and Research Centre. Sensors are also monitoring water flows allowing experts at Liverpool University to gauge the success of the project.

‘Another major gain from restoring May Moss is that it is acting like a giant sponge, retaining water for longer and alleviating the severity of flooding downstream in vulnerable areas by reducing surging run-offs during storms or very wet periods,’ said Brian.

Jools Granville of SITA Trust said they were glad to be working on the project. He added: ‘May Moss is part of England’s biggest moorland Site of Special Scientific Interest and we’d like to ensure that it is given every assistance possible.’

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