Peatland Restoration in Snowdonia
Over the last four years, Snowdonia National Park Authority has been involved with several projects focussed on restoring some of the fantastic peatlands of Snowdonia. Active peatlands offer a host of benefits to society (often referred to as ecosystem services), including:
- Improving water quality within catchments by acting as a natural filter and reducing the amount of sediment entering adjacent watercourses;
- Reducing peak flow rates lower within catchments by retaining water during periods of heavy rainfall and releasing water during periods of drought;
- Storing carbon due to the anaerobic conditions found in healthy functioning peat bodies.
The work began in the winter of 2012/2013 when the Authority, in conjunction with the Countryside Council for Wales (now Natural Resources Wales) and a private landowner, embarked on an ambitious project to restore over 33 hectares of peatland at Rhyd Ddu, Beddgelert. The £35,000 project, which was funded by the Welsh Government’s Ecosystems Resilience and Diversity Fund, aimed to restore the peatland into its former glory so that it could once again provide the ecosystem benefits referred to above.
Restoring peatland at Rhyd Ddu with the Snowdonia Society (© SNPA)
Located within the Afon Gwyrfai a Llyn Cwellyn Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and within the watershed of the Afon Gwyrfai a Llyn Cwellyn Special Area of Conservation (SAC), inappropriate management of the bog historically (including peat cutting, the opening of ditches and accidental burning of the vegetation) had left the site in unfavourable condition. Primary work undertaken through the project was as follows:
- Using local contractors, approximately 18km of artificial drainage ditches were blocked on site in order to restore the natural hydrological conditions of the bog.
- Once the ditch blocking work had been completed, a specialised wetland forage harvester was used to mow the bog and remove the litter layer of purple-moor grass prior to the reintroduction of grazing. In addition to the removal of the rank vegetation, it is hoped that the mowing will assist in spreading propagules of the peat forming mosses around the site.
- Post completion, the landowner intends on entering the land into Glastir, the agri-environment scheme for Wales, and leasing the grazing rights at the site. It is hoped that by grazing the site heavily post grazing, the re-growth of Molinia will be suppressed, assisting in the recovery of the site.
- Further work on adjacent land including ditch blocking (approximately 1km), the construction of ‘crossing points’ for livestock to minimise poaching, and the reinstatement of field boundaries (both dry stone walling and fencing) in order to manage grazing levels appropriately.
Further to the above, the Authority lead an 18 month project funded by the Welsh Governments Resilient Ecosystems Fund in collaboration with RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales, the National Trust and Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water. The project aimed at restoring approximately 485 ha of degraded peat land at various locations throughout north-west Wales.
Restoring the peatland as part of the Ffridd Uchaf project (© SNPA)
Factors such as agricultural intensification and afforestation have lead to the degradation of many of our peat bogs, the essential ecosystem services they provide, and their associated flora and fauna. However, this £210,000 project is set to reverse this decline by undertaking work aimed at restoring these distinctive peat bodies to their former glory. This will be done primarily by i. re-wetting the land through the blocking of artificial drainage ditches ii. removing scrub encroachment and/or afforested areas and iii. undertaking improvements to access and field boundaries in order to control future grazing at those sites. In addition to the ecological benefits, the restoration project aims to restore some of the key ecosystem services which our uplands provide, including:
- Retaining carbon in the land which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Peat is estimated to store approximately 30% of global soil organic carbon, even though they’re estimated to cover only 2–3% of the Earth’s surface. Whilst it’s almost impossible to accurately calculate the amount of peat that is locked up in the project sites, it amounts to several hundred tonnes in total. Whilst dry/degraded peat allows for the carbon to react with air, thus oxidising and being released into the atmosphere, re-wetting of the land removes this affect, thus the carbon stored in peat remains locked in the land. Furthermore, due to the anaerobic conditions achieved by permanently waterlogged land, active peat bogs become a net sink of carbon by locking up approximately 0.25kg/metre² when functioning properly, all of which help contributes to climate change mitigation;
- Improvements to water quality due to the ability of bogs to act as natural water filters and reducing the amount of sediment entering adjacent watercourses;
- Controlling water levels in catchments by retaining water during periods of heavy rain, thus reducing peak flow rates, and storing water during droughts.
Work on the project began in November 2013 and continued until February 2015. With the funding, approximately 67km of drainage ditches were closed on sites at Mynydd Hiraethog, the Berwyn Mountains, Ogwen Valley and the Migneint, with vegetation clearance and boundary restoration undertaken at Arthog Bog. In addition to the practical elements of the project, various public events and educational visits were undertaken to promote the work amongst the local communities and schools.
The third and latest installment of funding was secured through the Welsh Government Nature Fund, when the partnership was once again successful in securing £132,000 to undertake peatland restoration works. Similar to the above, ditch blocking was undertaken (approximately 9km on the Migneint and several kilometers on Mynydd Hiraethog). Other aspects of the project included the removal of approximately 40ha of brash on a previously afforested site in order to facilitate recovery, felling of natural regen within the Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt SAC (approximately 19,000 ha in size!), repairing stock handling facilities in order to allow for sustainable grazing and the production of a strategy to help focus future restoration efforts within the National Park. In addition, further community work was undertaken, including the production of a ‘peatland rap’ video with local schools and various evening talks to local groups.
Should you require any further information on peatland restoration in Snowdonia contact the Authority's Biodiversity Officer, Gethin Davies by calling 01766 770 274 or via e-mail at email@example.com.