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Air drops to save Peak District

Published: 13th May 2010

A PROJECT to restore the ecology of the Peak District has received scientific support from Manchester Metropolitan University.

A rare moss is being scattered across hillsides from a helicopter this week in a bid to restore peatland moors damaged by the industrialisation of the past.

The aim is to use plants to stabilise moorlands and cover bare peat which would otherwise be washed away.

Dr Simon Caporn, of the University’s Centre for Earth and Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Change, said: "Peatlands store an estimated 30% of the global soil carbon pool, support unique biological communities, have a high capacity to filter pollutants and play a major role in catchment water storage.

Worst region

"However, a large part of UK blanket bogs are in an eroded condition."

According to Dr Caporn the worst region is the southern Pennines, where fire, air pollution and heavy grazing have resulted in extensive areas of eroding bare peat surfaces.

Initial efforts to restore functioning blanket bog have focused on re-establishing vegetation comprising nurse grasses and dwarf shrubs, but this latest air-drop uses sphagnum moss which is able to hold many times its own weight in water and allows new peat to develop.

The scientists have had problems getting the plant to propagate and spread and it is hoped the innovative technique, which involves dropping a small plant in a capsule of solution, will allow the species to take hold.

Long-term plan

If the trial by the Moors for the Future partnership is successful, the plan is to restore more than 2,000 acres of Peak District over the next five years.

The partnership includes companies, charities and local authorities and is backed by MMU and Micro Propagation Services and funded by Natural England and the Co-operative.

PhD researcher Angus Rosenburgh said: "Our role is to monitor Sphagnum establishment on different moorland surfaces and try to understand the soil and environmental factors that control Sphagnum success in this area which has a long history of air pollution and other environmental pressures."

For more about MMU research on ecosystems, go to
www.egs.mmu.ac.uk/research_and_enterprise/ceerec/default.asp