When we think of Wales.... we think of rain. But here in Gogledd Cymru, rain is exactly what we need to help restore and protect blanket bog and the species that live there. RSPBs Conservation Advisor, Rhian Pierce talks about this amazing habitat and the wonderful farmers that are working hard to protect it.
More than 12% of the world’s blanket bog is found in the UK, with about 70,000 ha found in Wales. Most of this is located within the upland areas of the Migneint and Berwyn Mountains, in the south of Snowdonia National Park. This is a very special area that is not only an internationally important Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for blanket bog, but it’s also a nationally protected site for hen harrier, merlin and peregrines.
Working closely with upland farmers, we are already seeing the environmental and ecological benefits of restoring this very special habitat for both people and wildlife.
What is blanket bog and why is it special?
Blanket bog is made of peat which is formed over thousands of years. Acidic conditions and lots of rainfall cause dead plant material to decompose in a very special way. Bog shrubs, sedges and mosses, like sphagnum moss, accumulate over a long period of time and are broken down without any oxygen (anaerobic decomposition) because they are submerged in water.
This process creates thick brown sediment called peat which in some areas can be found in excess of five metres deep! This is because most of the peat bogs today formed when the glaciers from the last ice age melted away around 12,000 years ago. (You can see a video about how they are formed here)
Golden plover on peatland (c) Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Protecting people and wildlife
Blanket bog provides a unique habitat for a diverse range of wildlife, but it also a whole host of benefits for people too. One of these benefits is its vital role in the global effort to reduce the impact of climate change by locking away carbon in the partially decomposed plant material.
It doesn’t just store a little bit of carbon, it stores billions of tonnes. Around the world, billions of tonnes of carbon are locked in wet peat, accounting for three times the amount of carbon stored in tropical rainforests. It’s clear that our blanket bogs are a crucial national resource to safeguard the wellbeing of wildlife and future generations.
Other benefits provided by blanket bog include reducing flood risks and providing clean drinking water. Upland bogs provide an incredible 70% of Britain’s drinking water. Bogs in poor condition make water discoloured by peat, which then runs off the land into our drinking water reservoirs.
When a bog is healthy, its special sphagnum moss and other vegetation absorb and filter the water so no harmful or expensive chemicals have to be used to make it clean again. Healthy bogs also reduce flood risk because of this sponge-like effect. Rather than the water quickly running off land during storm surges, healthy peat bogs absorb lots of water and then release it very slowly.
Up here the farmers are proud to give nature a home by looking after the habitats where hen harrier, merlin, red & black grouse, curlew and golden plover breed. We work with 12 farmers across this area to help restore special habitats and I have been heartened by working with them.
Heath land on the Migneint (c) Rhian Pierce
They enjoy telling me about the birds they see and love hearing the returning call of curlew and lapwing in the spring. Everyone has been supportive of RSPB wanting to manage the blanket bog for the benefit of these birds by creating nesting and foraging areas for them.
To see more about our work with farmers to restore blanket bog habitat for curlew and golden plover on the Migneint, look out for a two part series on the Farming blog and the We Love Wales blog across March and April.
Why working with upland farmers is so important for nature
Over 80% of Wales’s land is managed by farmers, which means they are right at the heart of saving nature in Wales. Without their skills, expertise, and generosity, we wouldn’t be able to work together to bring back and protect homes for special Welsh wildlife, or to protect habitats that provide other amazing benefits for people, like blanket bogs!
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