Project conserves ‘rarer than rainforest’ blanket bog in Wales

Project conserves ‘rarer than rainforest’ blanket bog in Wales

11 April 2011

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UK — A CONSERVATION project has helped to revive a massive blanket bog in Mid Wales that is “rarer than rainforest”, experts revealed yesterday.

The internationally-acclaimed £2.57m project has breathed new life into the bog across two Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) at Berwyn and South Clwyd Mountains and Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt.

Mike Morris, RSPB Cymru’s LIFE Active Blanket Bogs in Wales project manager said: “The UK has 12 to 15% of the world’s blanket bog and 4% of this is in Wales, in global terms that is a fair amount.

“Blanket bogs are a sensitive and important upland habitat found on areas of deep peat that are fed exclusively by rainwater. The bogs are home to many specialist plants, including sundew and the cloud berry, insects including dragonflies and birds such as the rare black grouse and hen harriers, merlin and peregrine falcon.

“It could be argued that peat bogs are rarer than the rainforest and that makes this bog hugely important internationally.

“The bog is a European priority habitat because the conditions need to be just right for it to thrive. It needs to be very wet, have high humidity and low evaporation so that the water stays on the mountain.

“The restoration of these areas will have benefits for both the local and wider communities as the bogs themselves provide a number of natural services. They are an important source of drinking water – around 70% of the UK’s drinking water comes from our uplands.

“And peat soils are an excellent carbon store – or sink, they lock it away, which, from a climate change, point of view is incredibly important.”

He said the majority of the project’s work – involving a re-wet of 8,447 hectares of land – focused on the RSPB nature reserve at Lake Vyrnwy and on Penaran, an area of land owned by Forestry Commission Wales (FCW).

“The main threats were drainage ditches, non-native trees and fire,” he said.

“When peat bogs are covered with trees they start to release CO2 and the peat gets eroded.

“The project addressed these threats by removing trees, blocking man-made ditches, and mowing fire breaks.

“More than 485km of drainage ditches have been blocked at Lake Vyrnwy, Penaran and on private land – that’s the equivalent of the distance from Lake Vyrnwy to Aberdeen!

“They were dug after World War II to increase grazing space for lambs – but this didn’t work and carcasses have had to be pulled from ditches because animals fall in and can’t get out.

“We have also removed non-native Sitka spruce trees from 5,800ha of upland at Lake Vyrnwy, Penaran and two private farms and mowed more than 292ha of firebreaks at Lake Vyrnwy, re-wetting 2,968ha more than the initial project aims on some of Wales’ most difficult and remote terrain.

“The Welsh uplands are an integral part of Welsh history and culture, with upland farming and recreation being an extremely important source of income for the local economy.”

The five-year LIFE Active Blanket Bogs in Wales project came to an end this spring.

“Working with local landowners was key to the success of the project,” added Mr Morris.

“Over 150 landowners visited the project at Lake Vyrnwy or had a visit to their own land by a member of project staff, resulting in ditches being blocked on 13 parcels of private land.

“Over 1,900 local children either visited the blanket bog at Lake Vyrnwy or received an outreach visit by a field teacher, some of them are the farmers of the future and they need to realise how precious the bogs are.”

Work is now taking place to agree the After LIFE strategy to ensure the project’s legacy.

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