Pictures: Why climate change can affect life in our peat bogs

Longdendale Junior Rangers working with Moors for the Future at Long Grain: testing the water table
Longdendale Junior Rangers working with Moors for the Future at Long Grain: testing the water table

Students help measure the moors around Sheffield to gather scientific data

March is bog testing month for the scientists of the Moors for the Future Partnership.

“Squelch, burble,” went Tom Aspinall by way of demonstration, as he lowered a plastic tube into a small hole in the ground and gently blew down until it hit water, and burbled.

A simple but effective tool to measure the depth of the water table, he said, and much loved by young scientists who use the period around British Science Week to work out how our peat moorlands are coping with climate change.

“We want to inspire young people to take an interest in these experiments, as they have the potential to be the scientists of the future and carry on the work we’re doing now,” said Joe Margetts.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the Moorland Indicators of Climate Change Initiative (MICCI), launched by the Peak District National Park Learning and Discovery team and now managed by the Moors for the Future Partnership.

Over a thousand students (mostly from secondary schools), have taken part so far in a project that has spread to other national parks.

“Climate change is such a large topic, it can seem remote and difficult for people to get their heads round,” said Joe. “But doing this kind of work can make it come to life. You see the local effects.”

Students measure the condition of the peat, the wildlife and plants on the chosen site, wind and weather conditions, and the water depth and quality.

And they hear how the conservation work being carried out by Moors for the Future, the National Trust and others on the moors of the Peak District is already having an effect, said Tom. A simple experiment devised by the MFFP team involved collecting run off water from Kinder Scout over several autumns in pipes filled with small polystyrene beads.

“It wasn’t particularly high tech, but it showed that two years after revegetating and rewetting the moors by blocking gullies with stones or dams, there was a 97% reduction in particles of carbon in the streams. We saw that as a huge success.”

“As a National Nature Reserve, Kinder Scout represents one of over 220 reserves across England where this sort of cutting edge environmental research is needed,” said Ted Talbot of Kinder landowners the National Trust.

The black bogs of the Peak District were formed 10,000 years ago, and when healthy they’re a carbon sinkfull of ancient plants that also pulls atmospheric CO2 from modern cars and factories into mosses and other plants that will gradually form new layers of peat.

But in the recent past, air pollution, fires, high levels of grazing and bog drainage had degraded local moorland, so peat and its stored carbon were rapidly eroding into our air and water.

“The rate peat is being lost has been dramatic,” said Jackie Wragg, youth engagement officer for MFFP. “The drier peat gets, the more vulnerable it gets and the more carbon it releases. It feeds back onto itself.”

Nevertheless, the peatlands of England, Wales and Scotland still store 20 times more carbon than all the woodlands of the UK.

And now the Moors for the Future partners (the Peak District National Park Authority, the National Trust, RSPB, the Environment Agency, Natural England and water companies Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent and United Utilities) are aiming to manage our upland mud to regrow sphagnum moss and hold water, to sequester carbon rather than lose it.

Climate models show the Peak District will see more extreme weather, said Jackie Wragg. “We’re likely to get more intense rainfall and longer drier periods, which is what we’ve seen over the last ten years.”

The MICCI work to monitor all this will start again next March, but in the meantime Jackie and colleagues will continue working with volunteers on scientific projects across our local moors.

“If people want to get involved, they can just get in touch with me,” she said. (Email Jackie.Wragg@peakdistrict.gov.uk)

It’s important that young people see the science about climate change for themselves, said Joe Margetts.

“We need to know what’s happening to mitigate and adapt to changes. Coming up here means young people aren’t just being told about climate change by someone on the telly, they can see it for themselves.”