Restoration and Management
The project is conducting a major programme of works to restore peatlands across Wales. A large proportion of the 90,000 hectares of peat soils found in Wales are in unfavourable condition, so the Welsh Peatlands project is working with a host of conservation organisations, landowners and skilled contractors to tackle these peatlands. Together we have been working on peatlands across the country to deliver positive action on the ground.
This work will help set these habitats on the path to good condition, delivering a range of important benefits to society and the environment. Healthy peatlands help to tackle climate change by storing large amounts of carbon. They also filter our water, help reduce flood risk, and provide homes for rare and unique wildlife.
Here are a few examples of what we’ve been doing:
Locking up carbon
Exposed peat releases huge amounts of carbon: it gets dried out by the sun, washed away by the rain and eroded by the frost. Peat is meant to be wet – it forms under anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions and therefore only partially decomposes. As soon as it dries out and oxygen is introduced to the system, the peat is broken down by micro-organisms, releasing greenhouse gases. Erosion by water and frost also leads to carbon losses into water courses, with implications for water treatment costs.
In this project so far, over 5000 metres of eroding peat ‘haggs’ (vertical banks of bare peat) on the Carneddau Mountains, and a further 7000 metres in the Brecon Beacons have been re-profiled and re-vegetated to reduce erosion and keep the carbon locked in the ground.
Slowing the flow
Many peatlands in Wales and elsewhere in the UK have been artificially drained, mainly during the mid-20th century in response to agricultural demand and forestry. Extensive drainage dries out peat bodies by lowering the water table, and can result in more ‘flashy’ catchment runoff and erosion of natural drainage networks (‘gullies’) in upland areas. Deep, steep-sided drainage ditches can also pose a risk to livestock safety.
We’re reversing the effects of artificial drainage using a range of techniques that will help stabilise water tables and maintain waterlogged, peat-forming conditions. Here are some of the things we’ve done to ‘slow the flow’ on our peatlands:
- Peat ‘baffles’ have been created along nearly 6000 metres of gullies in the Carneddau Mountains, and around 500m of gullies in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Baffles are small dams that extend part way across gullies, causing the water to meander down these natural channels. By doing this, they slow the flow of water and reduce the erosion of drainage networks.
- 1100 metres of low-level contour ‘bunds’ have been constructed on a lowland raised bog on the Dyfi estuary, working with RSPB to restore a vital habitat. Bunds are dug trenches that are re-packed and raised with wet peat to create a seal along the outer contour line of a raised bog dome, preventing water loss.
- A tonne of heather bales were placed by hard working volunteers on the Snowdonia Society’s 2019 ‘Make a Difference’ (MaD) weekend, creating dams to re-wet an area of the Migneint blanket bog in Snowdonia.
Peat baffles on the Carneddau
Covert Coch Bund
Peatlands benefit from light levels of grazing, which help keep dominant species like heather and purple moor grass (Molinia) in check, allowing a diverse, natural vegetation community that’s a great habitat for important bird, mammal and insect species. Grazing can also support the process of restoration by preventing the re-establishment of trees or scrub on to recently restored or recovering sites.
Cattle on the Berwyn
In Wales, conifer plantations are estimated to occupy 10% of deep peat areas, many of which were planted in the 1970s and 80s for commercial timber. While planting trees is important for the environment and helping tackle climate change, the overall environmental benefits of planting on deep peat are now generally considered to be outweighed by the damage caused to peatland carbon stores and hydrology.
Here are some of the things we’ve done to manage vegetation on peatlands:
- 10,000 conifer trees have been felled or removed from deep peat sites across Snowdonia National Park to stop the trees drying out the peat and releasing tonnes of stored carbon.
- Low level cattle grazing has being introduced on 85 hectares of peatland across Wales, working with private landowners and graziers to control Molinia and conifer re-generation, and supporting the colonisation of natural, peat-forming vegetation.
- 10 hectares of scrub vegetation has been removed from a lowland peatland in Llyn Llech Owain, working with Carmarthenshire County Council to help restore the peatland’s natural vegetation.