Blan­ket bog

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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

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