THE hills on the eastern side of Tameside above Stalybridge, Mossley and Longdendale, are a small part of the Dark Peak area of the South Pennines.
The Dark Peak gets its name from the peat covered moorlands that dominate the hills at the northern end of the Peak District. Although our hills are not in the National Park they are a continuation of that moorland expanse.
Moorland is a mixture of upland habitats, but the word moor comes from old German and means swamp, so it is almost certainly the areas with wet peat that give the moors their name.
On the upland plateau on deeper peats, you find blanket bog, now dominated by hare’s tail cottongrass, but in the past there would have been abundant sphagnum mosses. Mixed in with this in drier patches you can find heather, bilberry, crowberry and cloudberry, or around bog pools common cottongrass and deergrass. It is important for some breeding birds like golden plover and dunlin. Blanket bogs occur where rainfall is greater than evaporation, and falls regularly through the year.
This has been the case in the Dark Peak for most of the last 4,000 years.
The waterlogged conditions mean plant material does not properly rot down and peat is formed.
The great peat formers are the sponge like sphagnum mosses, but the pollution, overgrazing and excessive burning over the last couple of hundred years has seen them disappear from our moors. Peat accumulation has therefore slowed, and in the worst affected areas there is little plant cover and the peat is eroding, including on parts of the Tameside moors.
However the levels of pollution have declined and work to try to reintroduce sphagnum mosses is now being trialled.
But this is not just about caring for habitats, active blanket bog is important in water management and for managing our carbon footprints in order to minimise the forecast climate change.
Active blanket bogs with sphagnum mosses are huge stores of carbon, but eroded ones actually release carbon into the atmosphere as the peat rots.
Locally where drainage is impeded you get wet heath, where cross-leaved heath is abundant, with other ‘heathers’, deer grass and some cotton grass. These upland heaths are again of international importance and Britain has the majority of that found in Europe.
You can explore some of this habitat on Sunday, June 3.
Paul Nethercott, Tameside Greenspace volunteers with be leading a strenuous nine mile ramble on the eastern edge of Tameside’s moorland, with steep hills and rough terrain. Meet at 10am at Oakgates car park, Hartley Street, off Huddersfield Road, Millbrook, Stalybridge, SK15 3FH. ●
Cotton grass growing on Tameside moorland