Natural England - Bog standard no more! Bolton Fell Moss to be restored to former glory

Bog standard no more! Bolton Fell Moss to be restored to former glory

10 January 2013

Plans to restore a vast area of milled peatland in north Cumbria back to fully-functioning, sustainable, raised bog are to be aired at a public meeting on Thursday 10 January at Hethersgill Village Hall.

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Sphagnum colonising bunds © Alasdair Brock / Natural England

Lying between the parishes of Hethersgill, Walton and Stapleton, Bolton Fell Moss covers more than 370sq hectares. It is one of the rarest wildlife habitats in the world, with the capacity to support sphagnum mosses - crucial for peat formation and carbon storage. Part of the moss is already protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and in 2009 the majority of it was designated as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) by the European Union, placing a duty on the UK Government - under European Law - to restore it and designate it as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Historically, commercial peat extraction has taken place at Bolton Fell Moss since 1957. At the time of its designation as an SCI, William Sinclair Holdings plc (WSH) held planning permission rights to extract peat until 2042. In 2010 a compensation agreement was reached between WSH and Natural England, which will see peat extraction cease completely by November 2013. More recently, Natural England has held negotiations with other affected landowners, to agree land purchase or management agreements which will allow the necessary restoration works to take place.

The proposed restoration plan will see water levels managed and unwanted plants removed and replaced with appropriate vegetation, in order to allow the bog surface to re-establish. 

Water levels will need to rise to within a few centimetres of the peat surface for restoration to be successful,, therefore existing peat depths, features above and below the peat surface, past management and the location of woodlands are all taken into consideration within the plan.

Works are anticipated to commence in spring 2013 and may take up to five years. Whilst information on underlying features and peat depths is largely complete, it will only be possible to clearly establish the surface features once peat extraction has ceased entirely. It is therefore not yet possible to specify the order in which the individual milling fields will be restored.

The extraction of peat and the drying effects of drainage have resulted in the establishment of trees and scrub on bog surface which has been cut or degraded. Some of  these trees will need to be removed to enable successful restoration. They will either be chipped, sold or retained by existing landowners. A band of trees of at least 40 metres wide will be retained around the perimeter of the moss where practical, providing woodland habitat for species including red squirrel and roe deer.

The main internal drains which have been installed to carry water off the site will remain in place during the restoration phase. Drainage around the perimeter will be managed between Natural England and other existing landowners, ensuring that nutrient-enriched water does not enter the site; excess water flowing off the bog continues to reach the surrounding streams  and that water does not back up and flood adjacent agricultural land.

The full restoration plan and associated maps are available to view. Any comments on the restoration plan should be sent to Alasdair Brock, Senior Reserve Manager: alasdair.brock@naturalengland.org.uk

The final restoration plan will be submitted to Cumbria County Council for planning permission in Spring this year.

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