With the unseasonably scorching weather over Easter weekend, we've sadly once again had some fire issues at Dove Stone.

Arnfield Moor here was affected by quite a large fire Sunday night/Monday when around 30 hectares was burnt, all on the moorland edge habitats and stopped on the edge of the blanket bog (a very degraded area of dry bog that hasn't yet been restored).  The bog edge had an hour of helicopter water delivery on Tuesday.  We're really grateful to the Fire Service response to contain what could have spread into a major incident, and we worked alongside fire officers and our landlords United Utilities to put it out. 

The RSPB/United Utilities partnership aims to encourage public access and recreation here, alongside farming, forestry and sustainable moorland management, while protecting water quality and wildlife for future generations. As part of this, a partnership of us, United Utilities, the Peak District National Park Authority, Life for a Life Memorial Forest and Oldham Council have continued to fund the successful marshalling of the site on busy days, and they are doing a fantastic job. Over the bank holiday they carried out fire patrols and put out around 30 BBQs!

The partnership remind all visitors to Dove Stone that everyone can hugely help reduce the chances of fires by remembering to:

  • Keep your eyes open for any signs of fire and report anything you see to the fire service. The quicker they are able to respond, the less damage occurs.
  • Please do not have BBQs at Dove Stone. Whilst it is a beautiful place that people understandably like to visit to socialise with friends and family, BBQs are not permitted at the site due to their fire risk.
  • Feel free to bring along a picnic, but please take your litter home with you. Glass in particular can cause fires to start in hot weather.
  • Please do not discard cigarette butts on the ground – even the smallest spark can create a large fire, particularly in dry conditions.

As well as these every day ways that all those visiting Dove Stone can help reduce fire risk, we are also carrying out important habitat management work to make the moorland more fire resilient.

Blanket bog is one of the key habitats of the moorland here, and it is globally important, with the UK having 10-15% of the world’s total. The very word ‘bog’ conjures up the image of a wonderful, wet, green area but this is far from current reality....

Despite their importance, the UK’s bogs have suffered over the last century for a variety of reasons: a combination of industrial pollution, managed moorland fires, wild fires, draining for agriculture and heavy grazing, has left them seriously damaged with large areas of exposed bare peat and a limited amount of vegetation and therefore wildlife.

Since 2005, United Utilities, the RSPB and Moors for the Future have been restoring the blanket bog here at Dove Stone. This is helping to make these dry uplands wetter and greener, by establishing vegetation on large areas of bare peat, placing dams of heather bales in eroded gullies to slow water flow and planting sponge-like Sphagnum moss to kick-start the process of bog recovery.

Gully blocking holds the water flow back, and over time, makes the bog wetter and greener, which brings multiple benefits for people and wildlife (image by Ed Lawrence)

Wetter and greener uplands are important for several reasons, not least because it is much harder to burn wet, green vegetation than bare peat, which can smoulder for months once fire has set in. In terms of last summer’s major fire, there is evidence on the ground that wet gullies on the RSPB/United Utilities managed area, where peat-forming Sphagnum mosses have been re-introduced, played a role in slowing the spread and intensity of the fire.

The fire stopped right on the edge of one of the wet gullies (image by Dave O'Hara)

The importance of blanket bog habitat cannot be underestimated. It plays a vital role in storing carbon and improving water quality. Healthy bogs can tackle climate change by locking up harmful carbon in the peat and preventing its release into the atmosphere. Around the same amount of carbon is stored in this country’s bogs as in all of the UK, French and German forests put together.

Healthy blanket bog is also incredibly important for water quality, acting as a natural filtration system into our reservoirs. The cleaner the quality of the water coming off the moor, the cheaper it is to treat and so saves money for customers. Improving the habitat at Dove Stone improves the water quality too.

Sphagnum moss is the building block of blanket bog. It is an incredible species that acts like a sponge and can hold up to 10 times its own weight in water. It is this ability to hold water that is the key to a healthy bog. As well as slowing down the flow of water into the reservoirs and therefore improving the quality of the water (as it contains less soil), and locking in harmful carbon, wet bog is known to have higher numbers of key insects like crane flies (daddy long-legs) that are an important food source for many of the special birds that breed on the moor.

This restoration work being carried out at Dove Stone by dedicated wardens and volunteers has already helped threatened moorland birds with the site recording a great rise in upland wading birds such as dunlinsgolden ploverscurlews and red grouse.

Ongoing restoration work at Dove Stone has hugely improved the moorland habitat (image by Ed Lawrence)