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.

Canal trips to The Mosses

March 30, 2021

With lockdown restrictions lifting, canal boating is a great way to staycation in the UK. If you’re out on the Llangollen Canal on your boat, the Marches Mosses are a great place to stop and stretch your legs. The canal, dug through peat in the early 1800s, passes the precious peatland that is the Mosses – Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses, Wem Moss and Cadney Moss.

The Viewing Tower looking out over the Mosses

From the mooring near Morris’ Bridge, it’s a short walk along the Moss-side towpath to the new Viewing Tower that overlooks the Mosses. The tower is five metres high, providing fantastic views over the expanse of this rare habitat. Enjoy the open skies above – who knows? You might spot a curlew, or even a hobby, overhead. So, make time to stop and experience the magic and mystery of the Mosses before you resume your canal boat adventure.

Curlew Credit: Stephen Barlow

Shropshire Council have Published Natural England’s Worlds End Planning Application

March 29, 2021

Natural England have submitted a Planning Application to Shropshire Council for works at Worlds End Fields as part of the Marches Mosses BogLIFE Project. The purpose of the work is for engineering works to allow the water levels to be managed on these fields.

The BogLIFE Project aims to allow better control of water levels to enable wetland habitat to be restored on land acquired in 2017. The land is peatland and originally formed the edge of the internationally important Fenn’s, Whixall, Bettisfield , Cadney and Wem Mosses SAC and Ramsar site, significant as the 3rd largest lowland raised bog in the UK.

The proposal will enable the water levels across the land to be managed to afford optimum conditions to allow bog edge habitats to re-establish. Re-wetting the land will prevent further deterioration of the peat, including in the deeper peats of the adjacent Bettisfield Moss NNR and in due course mitigate the associated release of greenhouse gases.

The Planning Application has now been published on the Shropshire Council website. You can access it here on the Shropshire Council website: https://pa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications. The application is entitled ENGINEERING OPERATIONS TO ENABLE WATER LEVEL MANAGEMENT AT WORLD’S END FIELDS, MOSS LANE. The Planning Application Reference is 21/01140/FUL.

The entire application contains more documents than we can publish here, so we have posted links to 11 priority documents in the application here for you to read. They’re listed separately below with a link to each document.

If you have any questions about the application, please contact: info.whixall@naturalengland.org.uk.

Design and access statement Worlds End Fields

Ecological Survey Report EXTRACT_Summary Only_WEF

Flood Risk Assessment Text

Location Map 1_ WEF_V5

Land Ownership Map 3_WEF

Construction Drg No C001 Key Plan_WEF

Construction Drg No C002 Diversion Route Site Plan_WEF

Construction Drg No C010 Brook House Farm General Arrangement_WEF

Construction Drg No C017 Ditch 1 Site Plan and Long Section_WEF

Construction Drg No C021 Ditch 2 General Arrangements_WEF

Construction Drg No C024 Coppice House Farm Ditch 3 General Arrangement_WEF

BogLIFE and Mosses and Marches Webinar on 25th March

March 25, 2021

Register ahead of time to join the conversation

Hosted by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

Main photo credit: Stephen Barlow

Robert Duff, Marches Mosses BogLIFE Project Manager, and visual artist Andrew Howe, will lead a webinar to talk about Andrew’s current project, “Mosses and Marshes” and the overall BogLIFE project on Thursday 25th March at 5:30pm.

The webinar is free of charge; however, you need to register ahead of time, no later than Wednesday 24 March. You can do so by following this link:

https://www.ciwem.org/events/a-future-for-wetlands-the-mosses-and-marshes-project-webinar

The webinar is hosted by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). The Q&A discussion will be chaired by Dave Pritchard, Chair of CIWEM’s Art and Environment Network and Chair of the Ramsar Culture Network.

The Marshes and Mosses project is a collaboration between artists, land managers and environmental specialists in the UK and Australia. It uses art to transform how people think about the changing environment at two of the world’s internationally recognised wetlands – the raised peat bogs of Fenn’s Bettisfield and Whixall Mosses NNR and the Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales. You can find out more about this project here.

Birds on the Mosses, by Dr. Bob Harris

March 22, 2021

With Spring arriving, we asked Dr. Bob Harris to write a piece for us about the birds that live on the Mosses , whether that’s year ’round or just for a season.

Bob mentions the curlews and lapwings that are returning to the Mosses now that winter is ending. They’re ground-nesting birds and their numbers are declining across the country. So it’s more important than ever that we ask you to keep your dogs on a lead when you visit the Mosses with them to help protect these species and others.

We want to protect you, too, so we suggest that you wear wellies or tall boots when you visit. We’ve have a lot of rain over the winter and the Mosses are doing their job in holding rainwater on the peat. But that means it’s pretty muddy on some of the trails, so we’ll be wearing our wellies and suggest that you do that, too.

Curlew in Flight Over Marches Mosses Credit: Stephen Barlow

Dr. Bob Harris writes:

The 1st March – St. David’s Day but, more importantly, the Meteorological start of spring. On the Shropshire Wildlife Trust site at Sinker’s Fields, Whixall, the bird life is changing, with winter visitors becoming restless and getting ready to move. Absent now are the large numbers of Wigeon and Teal, and the small numbers of Pintail and Shoveler fall daily. Water Rails have gone, although the Coot and Moorhen still stubbornly hang on while water levels remain. Canada and Grey-lag geese, typically in large numbers overnight, have been replaced by breeding pairs all noisily laying claim to potential nest sites, and Mallards? there’s always Mallards. As water levels fall many birds move to the nearby Mosses to roost overnight and, seemingly, never come back.

Our winter Fieldfares and Redwings having eaten virtually every berry along the hawthorns of the canal bank and with warming temperatures and increasing day length their thoughts have turned to places further north. Many are now departing in small flocks.

Lapwing over Marches Mosses Credit: Stephen Barlow

Besides all of these birds leaving, spring on the Fields is also marked by the calls of incoming Curlew, the ‘pee-wit’ of the Lapwing, and the ‘sqwark’ of the Black-headed gulls. Wagtails begin to appear, early Sand Martins stay for a day or two to be quickly replaced by longer staying swallows, and eventually swifts. The song of the Dunnock and Robin follows one everywhere and the Cettis’s Warbler present on /off all winter is still here – this year it may actually stay to breed.

Around the tree-lined edges of the Mosses the flocks of Lesser Redpolls have now all but gone but the small charms of Goldfinches still exist drawing attention to themselves by their constant ‘silver-twittering’. The small flock of crossbill seen in the conifers over winter now appear to have moved to better breeding habitat. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are starting to drum and the yaffle of the Green Woodpecker can sometimes be heard. Blackbirds and Blue Tits seem to be everywhere and the ‘teacher-teacher’ call of the Great Tit is loud and persistent. Everyone is waiting for the first calls of the migrant Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler which definitely indicates that spring is almost here.

Snipe

On the nearby Mosses themselves the cold, bleak and depressing winter habitat with its occasional hunting Harrier or Barn Owl, its over-flying Raven, or the ever present Carrion Crows, things are slowly beginning to change. Visits which previously only recorded the occasional Meadow Pipit, snipe or ubiquitous wren now rub shoulders with increasing numbers of excited Reed Bunting, Stonechat and Skylark. Pairs of Linnet, displaced for the winter, now reappear in their usual haunts in the path-side trees and bushes. Whitethroats are (will be) in profusion but Yellowhammers are becoming rare and the nearest Corn Buntings are close; at nearby Wem Moss.

Female Stonechat Credit: Stephen Barlow
Male Reed Bunting Credit: Stephen Barlow

Out in the centre of the Mosses spring is heralded by the evocative bubbling calls of Curlew, as they have now paired off and have started to take up territories and nest sites.  Lapwings also add their courtship flight across the Mosses, while Black-headed gulls ‘sqwark’ in profusion, collecting over their chosen colony sites. Canada Geese honk noisily, with every puddle of water seemingly having its own pair of geese.

As other summer migrants arrive back they too take up territories and nest sites. Garden Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher all nest on site, alongside Kestrel, Merlin and Teal. Cuckoo’s range over the whole site – probably targeting Meadow Pipits to receive their single eggs – but unfortunately, as elsewhere, their numbers each year appear to be less. Snipe, although present on site all year, with larger numbers in the winter, are thought to breed but concrete evidence is difficult to achieve.

Hobby in Flight Credit: Stephen Barlow

As the weather warms and more and more insects appear on the wing swallows feed about the periphery of the Mosses while swifts hawk everywhere. At some point Hobbys will appear – with up to five counted on site at one time.

Night time visits to the Mosses are few and far between – particularly as it’s also “Mosquito Party-time”. But volunteers do visit. Surveys are undertaken and planned for Long-eared and Tawny Owl, with dawn and dusk visits for snipe and nightjar (which do breed on site). Recent research reports frequent movement by Curlew at night so additional surveys at this time may give a better indication of breeding numbers; indeed no one really knows the extent of bird activity on the Mosses at night.

Note: monthly bird surveys are undertaken across the whole site together with WeBS counts and surveys as part of Defra’s Avian-flu monitoring. Over 100 nest boxes have been erected and are monitored by volunteers as part of the BTO Nest Record Scheme. Licensed Bird Ringing occurs both spring and autumn targeting migrants as they move through the Mosses. All of those birds marked in bold in the main text are targets for specific surveys in 2021.

So Big the FA Cup Would Fit into the Mosses?

March 19, 2021

The Marches Mosses are important peatland that cover 1,000 hectares of north Shropshire and northeast Wales. What does that have to do with football?

Well, with the FA Cup Quarterfinals coming up, there just might be a link: Around 1,400 football pitches would fit into those 1,000 hectares of the Mosses. That would be nearly two pitches for each of the 736 English football clubs that competed in the FA Cup this season.

Marches Mosses Credit: Stephen Barlow

While the pitches would fit onto the Mosses, the players might find the surface a bit difficult to play on as healthy peat is squelchy underfoot. That healthy peat has some strong benefits – it stores carbon, helping in the fight against climate change; it provides a habitat for wildlife that depend on its acidic nature to thrive; and it captures rainwater, helping to slow the flow into rivers downstream – thus keeping those real football pitches that little bit drier for the players.

So, whether you’re cheering on one of the last eight teams in the FA Cup this weekend or disappointed that your club isn’t among them, you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air with a walk on the variety of marked trails that run through the 1,400 football pitches that make up the Marches Mosses.

Marches Mosses Celebrate UN World Wildlife Day

March 3, 2021

Today, March 3rd, is UN World Wildlife Day. It was established in 2013 by the United Nations General Assembly to be held on the anniversary of the 1973 signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The purpose of World Wildlife Day is to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.

The Marches Mosses is an ecosystem that’s home to a wide range of fauna and flora that need the wet, acidic environment of the Mosses to thrive. Among them are the great raft spider and the white-faced darter dragonfly.

By Stephen Barlow
Raft Spider Credit: Stephen Barlow

The great raft spider is a large wolf spider; it’s the size of the centre of the palm of an adult’s hand. Mid-brown in colour, raft spiders have pale yellow stripes along each side of their body. It looks like it walks on water, but it’s really using the surface tension of the water to support its weight. Raft spiders like to sit at the edge of one of the many pools on the Mosses, or on floating vegetation on the pool’s surface, with its front legs resting on the water’s surface. It feels for vibrations on the water as flying insects land and then jumps onto the unsuspecting insect for its lunch.

Raft spiders also swim underwater to locate food, eating aquatic insects like water beetles and even small fish and frogs. It dives underwater when threatened. You can spot them on the Mosses from May to August.

Raft spider showing stripes on body. Credit: Allan Heath

The scientific name for raft spiders is Dolomedes fimbriatus; they are part of the Pisauridae family of spiders. “Dolomedes” comes from the Greek word meaning “crafty” or “wily”, which is a good description of how raft spiders hunt!

White-faced darter Credit: Stephen Barlow

Another denizen of the Mosses is the white-faced darter (Leucorrhinia dubia), one of the 26 species of dragonflies you can look for on the Mosses. The white-faced darter is special as it’s very rare, so rare that it’s on the GB Red List of endangered species. The male white-faced darter is red and black, while the female is yellow and black. Both have a creamy white face and a notably “hunchback” appearance.

White-faced darters are a true mire species: they need the shallow, peaty pools of the Mosses with their mixture of bogmoss cover and open water to survive. Their larvae occur in waterlogged Sphagnum moss on the edges of ponds. Darters also use the woodlands on the edges of the Mosses and along the disused railway line for roosting and feeding.

White-faced darter Credit: Vicky Nall

The numbers of white-faced darters have declined nationally over the past 35 – 40 years. Reasons for their decline include the removal of Sphagnum through peat cutting, pollution, and the changes to rainfall being caused by climate change.

However, numbers have increased on the Mosses as populations of darters have spread to new areas where bunding work has been done to restore this precious peatland. The bunds form pools in the surrounding bogmoss, perfect habitats for the darters. This has been so successful that, several years ago, some white-faced darters were collected and transported to wetlands in Delamere Forest to increase the population there.

You can spot white-faced darters on the Mosses from April until September, with May to July being the best times to look for them.

Walking on the Mosses Credit: Stephen Barlow

World Wildlife Day might be too early to spot raft spiders and white-faced darters on the Mosses, but other plants and animals are starting to reappear as Spring begins. Follow the COVID guidelines for the area you live in, but remember that the Mosses are always a good location for your daily exercise.

We Bet You Haven’t Thought About Drains on the Mosses

March 2, 2021

If you read about the Marches Mosses here on this website, or follow the Mosses on Twitter, you’ll  know that peat bogs are an important feature of the Earth’s environment. They store carbon, helping to fight the climate crisis; they are a valuable habitat for creatures and plants that make their homes on them. In fact, many bog plants and animals depend completely on the acidic nature of peatlands to thrive. Healthy peatbogs also store vast amounts of water which helps to slow the flow of water off the Mosses, helping to reduce flooding downstream.

The Mosses have been changed by human activities over the centuries. Peatcutting changed them dramatically, but huge swathes of bog were also drained to create new fertile land for farming. And drains have had a significant influence on the areas of moss that remain. Yep, we said drains.

Healthy peat depends on rainwater – and only rainfall and moisture in the air – to keep the peat wet and provide water and the low levels of nutrients that plants like Sphagnum mosses need to grow.

What healthy peat doesn’t need, or want, is the nutrient-rich water that drains off of mineral soil – the soil that forests, grasslands, farms and our back gardens depend on. That’s where the drains come in.

But first, a bit of history before we dive into the solutions.

The History

Damaged peat is very likely to be dried out. Peat dries out because it’s been drained, allowing the water to run off the bog. The the mosses that make up the Marches Mosses were drained for centuries, in order to dry out the peat so it could be cut for fuel and agricultural uses.

Old Drains on the Mosses

Drainage certainly goes back to the first Inclosures in the early 1700s. The Inclosure of 1823 defined five principal public drains to carry water off Whixall Moss. The drains were the responsibility of the Lord of the Manor and had names as uninteresting as Main Drain and as unusual as Chatty Bottoms.

The drainage led to the collapse of much of the raised dome of peat on the Marches Mosses. For instance, the northern dome of Wem Moss was damaged by the creation of the Border Drain; otherwise, the dome would have continued into Cadney Moss. The southern dome was damaged by drainage as well. Aerial images of the site show the extent of drains across Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.

Adding to the woes, the drains allowed nutrient-rich water from the surrounding farms, houses and villages to drain onto the Moss. This led to the growth of invasive species – bracken, scrubby birch and purple moor grass among others – that draw water up from the bog, further drying the peat. Neighbouring Wem Moss, managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust, was completely drained by the 1980s and the whole peat layer became hidden under a blanket of those dominant, invasive plant species. If left unmanaged, Wem Moss would no longer be a Moss at all – just a thick jungle of birch, surrounded by willow forests; both of which are unsuitable for bog specialist wildlife.

The Solution

The solution has been underway on the Mosses since the 1990s when they were protected as a National Nature Reserve. Work involves damming up the small drains to keep rainwater on the Mosses and installing bunding on parts of the bog to re-wet the peat and make it ideal for generating moss growth. Some of the larger drains have also been re-configured to prevent nutrient-rich water from entering the Mosses. This changes the ecosystem, making it ideal for the unwanted plants to start developing and dominating bog plants.

When you’re out walking on the Mosses, you might see work being done to reconfigure drains – there’s work going on now to re-direct the Bronington Manor drain that runs across the Mosses, around the northern area of the dismantled railway path.

The Benefits

The River Severn at Shrewsbury

One of the benefits of restoring the peat on the Mosses to health is cleaner water flowing into the rivers downstream. Water that does flow off the bog is rainwater that’s been slowly filtered through the peat, helping to keep the rivers that much cleaner, meaning less work is needed to provide fresh water to people in the area. In fact, there are two watersheds from the Mosses – one that flows north to join the River Dee as it flows toward Chester, and the other, south to the River Roden which eventually joins the River Severn.

In summary, drains are an important part of the life of a bog. They keep the “wrong” water off the Mosses and keep the “right” water on to keep the peat wet, allowing it to store more carbon, while slowing the flow of rainwater off the Mosses, helping to prevent flooding downstream while filtering the water that eventually joins the Dee and the Severn.

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.

Why We Need to Restore Precious Peatland Habitats

February 10, 2021

The Wildlife Trusts, of which Shropshire Wildlife Trust is a member, issued a press release today about the need to protect and restore UK peatlands. You can read the press release here. Some interesting facts relating to this help to draw a clear picture of the need to restore precious peatlands habitat, as the BogLIFE project at the Marches Mosses in Wales and Shropshire is doing:

Peatlands cover as much of the UK as forests, but store three times as much carbon.

  • Whilst peatlands may bring to mind the upland peat bogs of northern England, Scotland and Ireland, there are important peatlands across other parts of the country too, from Dartmoor in the west country, to the low-lying fens of Eastern England, to the lowland raised domes of the Marches Mosses.
  • In fact, altogether, peat soils cover about a third of the UK, with deeper soils – peatlands like the Marches Mosses – covering about 12%. 
Marches Mosses
  • When in their natural wet state, peatlands hold carbon in soils that have built up over thousands of years. When peatlands dry out, the carbon combines with oxygen to form CO2. Scientists have estimated that if all the carbon held in the world’s peat soils were released, it would raise CO2 levels by 75%, with catastrophic consequences for global climate. This emphasises the need to protect and restore the peatlands.
  • The UK’s peatland soils store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. Compare that to the roughly 1 billion tonnes of carbon that are locked up in UK woodlands, mostly in the soils; these cover 3.21 million hectares or about 13% of the UK. Thus, peatland stores three times the amount of carbon as forests in the UK.

Peatland provides natural flood protection

Peat soils and vegetation hold water well and provide natural flood protection by catching downpours. Nearly three quarters of the UK’s water supplies come from peatland catchments; when those catchments are well-managed, water companies spend less treating that water to make it drinkable. When peat bogs are cut, lots of humic acids – decayed leaf litter, basically – are released and the water leaving the Moss is dark brown, whereas water off restored peat areas is clearer.

Peatlands provide a respite for people and wildlife

In addition to the contributions of peatland to the fight against climate change, they also provide benefits for people and wildlife. People can enjoy walks in the quite, open expanse of the peatland – a healthy change from busy, urban life. Creatures and plants, many of which can only thrive in the acidic nature of the peat, have made peatbogs their home.

There’s an archeological benefit, too: peatland provides an irreplaceable chronological history of the environment over the 10,000 years or more that they developed, with information captured in layer upon layer of peat.

Plans to restore additional peatland to store carbon

  • The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to provide independent advice on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change. Their Sixth Carbon Budget, published in December 2020 and entitled “Agriculture and land use, land use change and forestry” describes the need to restore peatlands: 
  • The roughly three million hectares of peat soil in the UK breaks down this way:
    • Around 25% is currently in natural condition (wet and well-managed bogs and fens);
    • 40% is degraded upland grassland;
    • 15% is lowland grassland or cropland;
    • 15% is under forestry;
    • 5% has been extracted. 
  • To reach net zero carbon emissions, the CCC has recommended:
    • All upland peatland be restored by 2045 (1.2million ha).
    • Between 25% and 50% of lowland peatlands, which is equal to 100,000 -200,000ha, are restored by 2050.
    • The remainder needs to be brought into sustainable management. 

Examples of other peatland restoration projects

 Examples of peatland restoration in the UK, in addition to the BogLIFE project on the Marches Mosses, include:

  • The Great North Bog:  Peatland restoration programmes in the north of England have developed a vision that stretches across 7,000 square kilometres of upland peat in the Protected Landscapes of northern England, which currently store 400 million tonnes of carbon. Damaged peat in the Great North Bog releases 3.7 million tonnes of carbon annually. The programme aims to develop a working partnership to deliver a 20-year funding, restoration and conservation plan to make a significant contribution to the UK’s climate and carbon sequestration target. You can read more here
Bourne North Fen
  • Of Lincolnshire’s original 100,000 hectares of wild wet fenland, only 55 hectares now remain – a loss of over 99.99%. This loss is responsible for the decline and extinction of much of the flora and fauna that depend upon these diverse wetland habitats. The Bourne North Fen is Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s project to restore 50 ha of fenland.
Wet farming on the Great Fen
  • The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire is working with farmers in the Great Fen on field-scale trials of ‘wet farming. These test innovative new crops for food, healthcare and industry that may prove very profitable for farmers. This also keeps the peat soils wet, preventing their degradation, and scientists are monitoring the carbon benefits of the project. Plans are underway to grow 150,000 Sphagnum plants which can be harvested to make alternatives to peat compost, helping to bring an end to extraction from bogs for this use.

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