Wildlife Trusts urge peat-free gardening

April 6, 2021

The Wildlife Trusts are asking people to show the Government that they care about protecting peatlands. They have launched a petition and urge everyone to check information on compost packaging to ensure that garden purchases are free of peat.

Peatlands are priceless. They take millennia to develop, storing millions of tonnes of carbon in the process. The commercial cutting of peatbogs not only destroys vital wildlife habitat, it also impacts their ability to hold carbon which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere as CO2, speeding up the process of climate change.

Fortunately, the peatlands of north Shropshire are no longer cut commercially and have been free from cutting for 30 years. The Marches Mosses make up the third largest area of lowland raised peatbog in the UK; there are larger sites, which hold even more carbon, but continue to be cut extensively.

Historically, peat was cut and dried for people to use in their fires, to heat their homes and to cook food. In modern times of central heating and electricity, the demand for peat has shifted to the world of horticulture. Peat-based compost comes directly from the declining peat bogs of the planet, but there are alternatives out there.

The Wildlife Trusts also encourage some of the UK’s largest retailers of gardening products to end the sales of peat-based compost this year, or risk being directly responsible for the irreversible damage of one of our most sensitive and declining ecosystems. To force the end of peat use in retail, consumers needs to stop using peat- based compost. By going peat-free, we can reduce the demand for peat-based products and make the alternatives more commercially viable options.

REMINDER – Wild LIVE Peatlands event this evening!

February 24, 2021

Don’t forget to register for The Wildlife Trusts’ monthly online nature discussion this evening, Wednesday 24 February, which focuses on peatlands.

Peatlands have been getting a lot of coverage lately as it becomes increasingly evident that play a key role in storing carbon. The “Peatlands: our superhero habitat” event takes place on Wednesday 24th February from 19.00 to 20.30.

Click here to sign up for Wild LIVE

Wild LIVE gives you the opportunity to learn more about key topics in the world of environmental conservation.

The expert panel will be discussing what can be done to protect our peatlands, and why they’re essential in the fight against climate change. 

Panellists include: Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, and Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts.

For more details and to book, visit the Wild LIVE webpage here.

UK and Australian Wetlands Collaboration puts Arts Council England Funding to Work

February 2, 2021

The changing environments of two of the world’s internationally recognised wetlands are under the microscope in an exciting collaboration between artists, land managers and environmental specialists in the UK and Australia.

The project, called Mosses and Marshes, has newly been awarded a grant from Arts Council England. It questions how we think about – and value – natural environments through works centred on the raised peat bogs of the Fenn’s Bettisfield and Whixall Mosses NNR on the border between England and Wales and the iconic Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales, Australia.

Combined with funding secured in Australia, the UK funding will allow the artists involved to create artworks and run events and exhibitions in their respective local communities, as well as nationally and internationally. The project will be launched via social media and project websites on World Wetlands Day, 2nd February 2021.

Andrew Howe (UK) and Kim V. Goldsmith (Australia) are co-leading the project exploring each unique site and environmental challenges we face on opposing sides of the planet.

Andrew Howe is partnering with Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England as they carry out their peatbog conservation projects, including habitat restoration on the former scrapyard on the Mosses. Kim has been partnering with the Macquarie Wetlands Association, as well as tapping into the knowledge of various wetland and water management specialists to explore elements of the Macquarie Marshes.

The Marches Mosses

Andrew says “We are delighted and hugely grateful to Arts Council England for this public funding from the National Lottery. This enables us to work with five other artists: Elizabeth Turner and Keith Ashford, Sue Challis, Kate Johnston and Lydia Halcrow, artist/curator Gudrun Filipska of Arts Territory Exchange, MediaActive Projects CIC and local partners Wem Youth Club and Shropshire Wildlife Trust.”

The two lead artists were introduced to each other through the international remote collaboration organisation, Arts Territory Exchange in 2018. They have used scientific research, site visits and field recordings to develop ideas, exploring some of the more hidden values of the wetlands – values not often considered in the fight to preserve them.

Kim says, “Andrew and I use similar processes to explore sites, really getting to know both human and ecological perspectives by spending time there – while my focus is the use of technology to dig deeper into the landscape, Andrew is a walking artist working in a range of media. We’ve both been very interested in weaving the stories behind the wetlands into the works, drawing out the commonalities that often have to do with shared hopes for the future of these environments.”

The artists hope this will develop into a longer-term project, establishing a platform for future artist residencies. The first phase includes new artworks for public exhibition, workshops, walks and talks, and a project publication due for release prior to the first exhibition at Qube Gallery, Oswestry, in October. Australian exhibitions will follow in 2022.

Bogs are best

February 16, 2020

New evidence shows that, when it comes to carbon capture, trees are good but bog is best! A recent scientific study headed by Angela Creevy of Edge Hill University has shown that by removing the commercially planted non-native conifers from a local lowland raised bog the ‘carbon sink’ function of the bog has been restored allowing them to ‘impound’ greenhouse gases from the air.

The study was carried out on Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve near Whitchurch. The Reserve is part of the wider Marches Mosses BogLIFE restoration project which has removed non-native conifers from the peat, restoring the bog’s ability to heal from the damage caused by commercial tree planting and peat cutting activities.

The group also found that, out of a range of differing recovering plant communities, a ground cover of Sphagnum bog moss along with other bog plants is best for taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. The Marches Mosses BogLIFE Project is currently restoring the peat bog by re-wetting formerly afforested areas to encourage the regrowth of Sphagnum bog moss, the basis of peat formation over the last 10,000 years.

In the UK, the industrialised forestry planting of open peatland was widespread in the late 20th Century, with 800,000 hectares – about 20% of the total – supporting serried ranks of conifers. This involved the drainage of the peatlands, not only destroying their ability to capture carbon, but releasing previously stored carbon into the atmosphere.

 

The BogLIFE Project has focused efforts on the removal of existing plantations and invasive tree species such as birch. This has increased the amount of rain reaching the ground, vital for peat bogs, and has stopped the trees syphoning water out of the bog. The Project has used cell damming to raise the water table, slowing the flow of rainfall off the restored plantations. Together, this slows water flowing into the river systems – helping to reduce flash flooding downstream.

In numbers – Fenn’s & Whixall National Nature Reserve stores 24 million tonnes of carbon. The carbon emission from the 660 hectare area of damaged peatland being restored at Whixall is roughly the equivalent to the emissions from all the cars in Wem and Whixall or 75% of the cars in Whitchurch!  Peatlands cover just 3% of the Earth’s surface but contain 30% of all organic carbon on the planet; that’s twice the carbon in all the World’s trees (94% of UK lowland peat bogs have been destroyed).

Read the recent article on peatbogs from The Guardian here

The area known as the Marches Mosses are made up of several peatbog areas: Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses, with Cadney Moss to the south. Shropshire Wildlife Trust manage and own Wem Moss Nature Reserve, which is also being restored. Peatbogs are so important for an array of wildlife, but it is becoming clear that they are just as important to us. Support the work of Shropshire Wildlife Trust by clicking here.

 

Spread of rare moss on Mosses shows the success of restoration

February 17, 2020

One of the rarest bog plants, the moss Dicranum undulatum, has been found on several sites on the Marches Mosses, which encompasses Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses. The moss, commonly called Waved Fork-moss, was surveyed by noted Bryologist Dr. Des Callaghan, working on behalf of the Natural England /BogLIFE Project which is returning the Mosses to their original state. Dr.Callaghan’s work was published in the January 2020 issue of the respected Journal of Bryology.

Waved Fork-moss (Dicranum undulatum) is listed as “vulnerable” in the Red List of Bryophytes in England and “endangered” in Red List in Wales, due to the destruction and degradation of lowland peatlands. It was found in two places on the Marches Mosses – the Cranberry Beds on Whixall Moss and on Bettisfield Moss. These are the last remaining locations in southern Britain.

There are records of Dicranum undulatum on the Mosses as far back as 1863. Charles Sinker, who worked to raise awareness of the importance of the Marches Mosses, observed it on Cranberry Beds in 1959. It was recorded again in decennial bryophyte surveys in 1993, 2003 and 2013. Historically it is thought it would have been growing across the entire raised bog when it was intact – before commercial peat cutting began.

Dr. Joan Daniels, Natural England Project Officer for the Marches Mosses, explains: “We commissioned Dr. Callaghan to help us better understand the status of this species as it is an indicator of the health of the Mosses. The peat at the Cranberry Beds has never been cut but has been affected by drainage all around it. This was done for commercial peat cutting until the 1980s and, by 2013, Waved Forked Moss was left in only a few patches there. The peat cuttings have now been dammed up, water levels in the uncut peat have risen, and Dr Callaghan has found many more thriving hummocks of it now.

“At Bettisfield Moss, Waved Fork-Moss was growing on an uncut area surrounded by cut peat. Here the peat was much more damaged because, although peat cutting stopped there in the 1950s, the peat had become covered with conifers. These were removed in 2001 to stop them shading and drying out the peat.

“By 2013 the Waved Fork-moss was only surviving in two isolated patches. Dr Callaghan found a few more patches, indicating a spread after forest removal. The BogLIFE Project has dammed and bunded all of the peat cuttings and the edge habitat of the uncut peat around it. We hope that a similar large expansion of this very rare moss will now follow the new raised peat water levels, as it has on the Cranberry Beds.”

Dr. Daniels continues: “Why are we interested in tracking Waved Fork-moss? Being an indicator of a healthy, pristine bog, it is a sign of the success of our work to restore this internationally important peatland. We’ve done this by clearing forests and putting the bog water levels back where they should be – at the peat surface.”

The good news stretches far beyond the 2,500 acres of the Marches Mosses, however. The BogLIFE team are hoping to work with other lowland raised peat bog managers to reintroduce Waved Fork-moss in their peatlands. The moss is easy to grow once introduced, as it reproduces from detached shoot tips. The large clumps on the Cranberry Beds should prove ideal for this.

Once brought into an area, Waved fork-moss is dispersed by wind and passing invertebrates, birds and ground-nesting birds as well as by humans. For instance, it may well be that machinery tracking across the Cranberry Beds, when blocking old drains to rewet the peat, inadvertently helped to spread broken shoot tips across the Moss.

Robert Duff, Natural England Project Manager for the Marches Mosses, takes up the story to share the vision of a healthy Marches Mosses: “The aim of the team here is to have this species spreading across the entire Moss again, as it did centuries ago. It’s a sign of a thriving, healthy, high-quality bog. The recent results are a milestone in ongoing efforts to restore favourable conditions across the whole of Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.”

Regenerating the peat at the Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses also aids in the fight against the climate crisis by storing carbon. Peat stores even more carbon per acre than trees do and reviving the peat creates additional depth of peat. Conversely, allowing peatlands to dry out releases that stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Visitors are welcome at the Marches Mosses. You might not spot Waved Fork-moss while walking on the trails around the Mosses, but you will see a huge variety of wildlife – plants and animals, birds and invertebrates – under the wide open skies of the expanse of Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.

Highest Rainfall on Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses for Past Thirty Years

February 3, 2020

 

If you’ve been thinking it’s rained a lot lately, you’re right – last year was the wettest in recent memory and Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses near Whitchurch and Wrexham felt it too. Gerald Moss, who keeps a nearby weather station, found that 2019 had the highest amount of rainfall in 30 years – 1080 cm (425 inches). Since the Mosses first became a National Nature Reserve in 1990, rainfall has been recorded every month. Looking back, the lowest rainfall was in 1991, when just 494cm (194”) of rain fell. That means the amount of rainfall in 2019 was twice the amount that fell when the NNR records began, showing how variable rainfall has become.

We Brits love to talk about the weather and chats about how the weather is changing are now frequent. Climate change analysis by UK scientists indicates that the climate is changing and will continue to change. Forecasters believe winters will continue to be wetter and summers drier as a result of the changing climate.

The changes at Fenn’s and Whixall Mosses, where huge variations in rainfall – from droughts in some years to floods in others – put more pressure on the rare, specialist bog plants that are basis for the ecosystem’s sustainability.

For instance, Sphagnum moss, the key species in peat generation and carbon storage, grows best in a steady level of about 10cm of water above or below the peat surface. Other plants, such as Purple Moor Grass (Molina caerulea) thrive in the fluctuating water levels experienced over the past decades on the Mosses, creating problems. Large expanses of Molinia have taken over the Mosses, shading the Sphagnum and generally making it difficult for the native bog mosses to succeed. Achieving a more consistent water level as a result of the peat restoration work being done at this rare habitat should lead to less Molinia and more Sphagnum.

The exceptionally high rainfall this winter has made the restoration work on the Mosses more difficult as well. Much of the work being done at Fenn’s and Whixall is to create bunds – low banks that capture rainwater in pools, helping to slow the flow of water off the Mosses to downstream tributaries. High rainfall can make it more difficult for the conservation team to work, slowing the regeneration of this internationally important environment.

Regardless of these record rainfall levels, rainwater is vital to the life of any bog. Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses are a world-renowned example of the rare habitat that can only occur where rainfall is captured on peat. Being naturally acidic when aerial pollution is low, rainwater adds to the high-acid, low-nutrient environment that Sphagnum and other bog plants need to thrive and create additional peat.

Despite the rain, Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Moss are a great place for a walk; there is plenty of wildlife to see, even in winter. Dig out your wellies and come to the Mosses to experience the fresh air and wide open skies of this special, rare habitat. Just remember your umbrella!

 

 

A Brief Background to the Mosses

The Marches Mosses – Fenn’s, Whixall, Bettisfield and Wem Mosses – make up the third largest lowland raised bog in Britain, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation. This peatland was formed over 12,000 years ago when Sphagnum moss began to grow in the wetland formed by the retreat of glaciers. The Sphagnum acidified the water, stopping the decay of plant remains. These built up like a sponge to form the raised expanse of the peat moss, with the pickled water creating an environment suitable for the unique combination of plants and animals that thrive here.

Peatlands, a rare habitat that make up only 3% of the earth’s surface and grow at just 1mm/year, depend on retaining rainwater for their existence. The Marches Mosses began to collapse when the bog was drained over several hundred years, the dried peat was cut for fuel and agricultural and horticultural use, and the edge habitat around the Moss was turned into farmland. The decay of the peat meant that carbon that had been stored for millennia was being lost and by the late 1980s the Mosses were badly damaged.

In 1990 the peatland was acquired as a National Nature Reserve and restoration was begun. This has led to an increase in biodiversity as plants and animals that thrive in the boggy conditions return and repair of the peat has meant an increase in the store of carbon. Because peat stores more carbon than plants, trees and other types of soil, the Mosses are an important weapon in the fight against climate change

The Bog Standard

Read the latest news from the Mosses by clicking on the image below:

What is planned for The Mosses in 2020?

January 9, 2020

The former scrapyard site

The former scrapyard is being covered by the removal of turf from nearby fields which were once part of the bog. The fields will be reverted to bog habitat by planting 150,000 ‘microproprogated’ sphagnum hummocks in a seeding operation following the turf-stripping.
This method of bog creation is an innovative experiment in regeneration. It uses local sphagnum collected from the Marches Mosses, carefully cultivated into ‘plug plants’ in a sterile setting and then re-introduced to create the original bog environment.
Degraded sites, where the Sphagnum cover has been lost due to human interventions such as harvesting, peat extraction and drainage, overgrazing, fire and air pollution are slow to recover without further human action. The successful return of Sphagnum moss, by natural recovery or managed reintroduction, is an essential factor for repair of degraded bog habitat.
Although the work was started in November, heavier than usual rainfall has subsequently delayed the project. Works will re-commence when the conditions improve sufficiently.

Bunding

Thanks to the marking out carried out by Natural England colleagues, bunding work has been undertaken continuously since August and good progress has been made. Large areas of bunding are underway on the North East Fenn’s area. Heavy rain in the autumn has shown how effective the bunds are at holding water on the moss. More bunding will be completed throughout 2020.

Forestry and woodland works

The last parcel of conifer woodland north of the railway at Chapel Lane, has been harvested and remaining brash is being removed. The picture below was taken during a visit from Reaseheath College’s Forestry and Arboriculture students.
Elsewhere Natural England is appointing contractors to undertake some broadleaf tree removal and thinning works. This will leave a screen of trees around the edge of the bog and will enable access for the peat bunding works to occur. This work will start in mid-January now that a scrub removal contract, required in advance of peat bunding, has been completed.

Rewetting scheme

The World’s End rewetting scheme is planned to commence in 2020 following submission of a planning application early in the New Year. This carefully designed drainage system will in part divert water away from properties around the Moss Lane area, currently dependent on a mechanical pumping station. The 1826 World’s End Drain was deepened in the 1970s to allow the new pumping station, installed when few appreciated how rare raised bogs were. This continues to draw water out of the NNR and now, as in the East Anglian Fenlands, the drained peaty farmland has shrunk to form a depression and is likely to become progressively ever harder to drain. The pumping system was originally designed to drain water away from two farms, but now serves more properties than originally intended. Natural England are proposing to alter the current set up by introducing gravity-based drainage route which will be integrated with the planned rewetting scheme for the 9 ha of land Shropshire Wildlife Trust purchased in 2017. Not only will this assist in part to prevent the current drainage from worsening it will also serve to help ensure bog habitat on the NNR is protected , making it into the ideal habitat for the flora and fauna that thrive in this distinctive ecosystem. Plans for the complex rewetting scheme at World’s End land are at an advanced stage and ongoing discussions are progressing with property owners affected by it.

Other works

There are also plans to build a viewing tower on the boardwalk track near Roving Bridge, which will be accessible to walkers hiking along the canal towpath. Plans have also been submitted for the construction of a new bird hide at Charles Sinker’s Fields at Morris’s Bridge. The hide will allow birdwatcher a clear view across the fields to view the many interesting bird species that visit the site. Watch this space for more details!

World War II Practice Bombs found on Fenn’s and Whixall Mosses

December 10, 2019

On the 74th anniversary of Armistice Day, conservationists working at Fenn’s and Whixall Mosses National Nature Reserve found two World War II practice bombs. The bombs were uncovered while workers were excavating to build water-retaining “bunds” as part of the regeneration of the Mosses near a former bombing range. A specialist in UXBs was employed on site overseeing the works. Part of Fenn’s Moss was used for the five years of WW11 as a practice target range for British, American and Canadian bomber crews flying Wellington, Hawker Hart, Avro Tutor, Harvard and Spitfire planes. Training crews came from several units, including 11 SFTS, Shawbury, 10 FTS, Tern Hill, and units from as far away as RAF Hawarden, Lichfield and Rednal.

The bombing site was set up near artillery ranges that had been created in the First World War. The site had a 700 yard radius with a 36 square yard target. Because it would have been impossible to paint the target onto the peat, it was made of wood, painted white and set up on mounds of peat.

The 8.5lb practice bombs found at Fenn’s Moss are typical of the thousands dropped on the target area. Painted white with green bands on the tail, the bombs were made up of three sections within its moulded Bakelite body: a nose section for the striker; a central section filled with lead-antimony balls and the detonator; and the rear section that was filled with chemicals that created white smoke when the bomb landed. You can still see the white paint on the bombs found in November.

The work that led to finding the bombs is underway to create cell bunds on the Moss. Made of peat, these bunds are essentially shallow dams built in large rectangles across the peat. These capture rainwater, which is needed for Sphagnum moss growth that acidifies the bog and creates more peat. It’s all part of the Marches Mosses BogLIFE project to regenerate Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve (NNR).

The Mosses make up the third largest lowland raised bog in Britain and, due to their importance, are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Peatland is one of the rarest habitats on earth and, because peat stores more carbon than plants, trees and other types of soil, the Mosses are an important weapon in the fight against climate change. Repairing the peatland has also let to an increase in biodiversity as plants and animals that thrive in the boggy conditions return.

The area where the WWII bombs were found is not accessible to the public. However, there are a range of walking trails at the Mosses, including a History Trail that starts at the Manor House NNR base near Whixall. Here you can learn more about the peatland’s contribution to both war efforts or just have an interesting day out under the wide, open sky of Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.

Starling flocks attracting the crowds

December 2, 2019

The cold weather and clear skies have made viewing the starling murmuration at Whixall a must-see over the last few days. With the forecast looking good for the next week, more people are likely to be visiting the Whixall area than usual for this time of the year. Over 60,000 starlings are thought to be roosting along the willow strip opposite the scrapyard. The sight is made all the more spectacular by the recent incredible winter sunsets.

Where is the best place to view the murmuration?

The starlings gather in the skies around the old scrapyard site on the edge of Whixall Moss. They can be viewed from the lane alongside Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s recently acquired fields at Morris’s Bridge and from the canal side anywhere between Morris’s Bridge and Roving Bridge. Click here to see a map

Where is the best place to park?

Although there are a couple of laybys along the lane towards the canal, we recommend parking on the official nature reserve car park, located just on the other side of Morris’s Bridge. Parking spaces are limited, so please park sensibly to allow the maximum number of people to use the car park.

What time does the murmuration start?

The starling flocks begin to gather at sunset. Arrive for 4pm to ensure that you don’t miss it.

Why do murmurations happen?

Starlings live in a complex societal system which we still don’t fully understand, but there are a number of reasons for them gathering in such spectacular fashion. During extreme cold, multiple starling flocks gather and roost together for combined body warmth.

But the key reason for so many birds flying in unison is all about safety in numbers. Starlings often fall prey to sparrowhawks, peregrine falcons and hobbies, all of which can catch them mid-flight. The best way to avoid being caught is to lose yourself in a huge crowd. Predators struggle to pick out individual birds when there are so many flying in close proximity. Studies have shown that starlings are able to move quickly and change direction as a group by reacting to the movement of the birds immediately surrounding them. Scale that up to tens of thousands of birds and the result is a mesmerizing spectacle; a shape-changing dark mass in the sky. Once the flock has determined that their chosen roost site is safe, they begin to pour into trees and bushes from the sky. It is estimated that there are around 60,000 birds in the flock at Whixall.

Below are some videos and images of the murmuration at Whixall. Visit the Shropshire Wildlife Trust website to read more about starlings, nature reserves in Shropshire and how you can help to protect them.

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