As a visitor to Dove Stone you may have seen our lovely interpretation boards explaining habitat, environmental features and wildlife around the reserve. However, our work spans a much wider area than a board can provide so we have decided to write this blog to cover frequently asked questions and various restoration works we deliver in partnership with:
Dove Stone is quite an unusual site for the RSPB in that we don’t have hides or a dedicated visitor centre. What we do have, are several designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) that includes approximately 3,700 ha of the 4,000 ha we manage in our partnership.
Much of the sites are blanket bog habitat and its restoration has become one of our key motivations and focuses at the Dove Stone reserve.
Blanket bogs are a type of peatland formed in the uplands with high rainfall and acidic conditions on waterlogged plateaus. The plants able to survive under these extreme conditions, hold large amounts of water and develop the peat as they break down very slowly which creates layers of peat over thousands of years.
The internationally important blanket bog above Dove Stone reservoir took around 5000 years to develop, but over the last 200 years has suffered degradation from acid rain, burning and heavy grazing, leaving vast areas of bare, eroded peat and deep gullies.
Healthy peat bogs store large amounts of carbon which is important in reducing the effects of climate change. They are important for drinking water quality by moderating water flow and filtering sediment as the water flows towards the reservoirs. The reservoirs surrounding Dove Stone are an important store of raw water for United Utilities. It is vital to maintain a reliable supply of water which is as clean as possible to reduce treatments costs for United Utilities customers.
This work also benefits breeding wading birds such as curlew, golden plover and dunlin whose numbers are now increasing at Dove Stone in the restored areas.
One of the most important aspects of our work is to install gully blocks in erosion gullies and grips. The method in which we treat the erosion comes down to the depth of peat within a gully.
Erosion gullies form in bare peat areas with a slope, where the bare peat is gradually washed away from rain and often wind-blown processes. Over the years if left to degrade they will increase in size and develop into sizeable channels until there is no peat left and bedrock or mineral is exposed on the bottom.
Peat loss through erosion is a worry, as the carbon that was originally stored for hundreds to thousands of years is released back into the environment. As the bog is degraded, it becomes a risk and a carbon source rather than a carbon capturing ecosystem service.
If the peat is at a depth of 70 cm or above, plastic piling is the best method for treating the erosion. The plastic used is recycled and if placed in the correct spot, gives an instantaneous result as they are impermeable and won’t degrade over time. They will however blend into the environment as vegetation starts to take hold where erosion wouldn’t allow it previously.
The dams are strategically created and placed in succession to hold the largest amount of water possible by looking at the hydrology of the landscape. From the pictures you can see just how effective these dams can be.
Primarily used in deep erosion gullies where the mineral is exposed, and the terrain gets relatively steep. Stone dams are built from locally sourced stone which is air-lifted to sites and then arranged by hand on the ground.
The basis for stone dams is to slow the flow of water and accumulate peat which develops in layers throughout the stone. Gradually, dams become more impermeable and collect large amounts of water behind them thus raising the water table and reducing further erosion of the sides.
Nothing goes to waste on our reserve, so in the process of producing our heather bales we not only reduce the fire risk but enable key restoration actions to take place. Heather is cut using a traditional farming baler and tractor then air-lifted to strategically placed access sites ready for installation by our hardy volunteers and warden team.
We use helicopter load lifting to reduce ground disturbance and further loss of peat. Due to the remoteness, many restoration areas are inaccessible with any other types of vehicle.
One of the more cost effective and another holistic approach to erosion gully treatment is the use of peat itself. This method is only applicable where there is enough peat available with good access. As with all operations on the bog, installation must be approved by Natural England and all works are mapped and recorded using GPS.
An excavator is carefully driven to site where peat is taken from the bottom of the gully. It is then replaced and manipulated in a way that will block the flow of water. The dams are then turfed with vegetation to stabilise it and inspire growth.
All installed gully blocks are revisited on a regular basis and maintenance is carried out as required.
Sphagnum moss is one of the key building blocks of blanket bogs, holding up to 20 times its dry weight in water and storing large amounts of carbon while on healthy ecosystems.
Sphagnum can improve water quality, by naturally filtering heavy metals and other impurities that atmospheric pollution transports to the moors. This is a huge benefit to utility companies as it reduces their energy spend and treatment costs.
All that water holding capacity has other benefits too such as the potential to prevent and alleviate flooding during extreme weather events.
We deliver sphagnum reintroduction in two ways. One being sphagnum handfuls gathered from RSPB donor sites such as Geltsdale and Lake Vyrnwy. The other using sphagnum plugs grown and produced by specialist companies.
Sphagnum plugs are produced as a roll of 20 individual plugs making them extremely easy to transport across the moors. RSPB wardens and volunteers will then carry several bags out to site and begin planting straight away. A small hole is made in the peat using a dibber or a finger depending on the ground and placed into the hole.
We essentially use the same method for sphagnum handfuls, only the hole is larger and can be produced used a dibber or the heel of your foot.
To ensure the best survival rate of sphagnum, we plant it in moist and vegetated areas which creates a micro climate for it to thrive. Some of the sphagnum we have planted has increased in size up to 200%!
You may have noticed in the news that there have been some significant fires which occur almost every year at Dove Stone. To help combat the frequency of these fires we regularly cut large swathes of heather which are a fuel source. This is done using low-impact methods including the use of brush cutters, quad and flail and a remote-control flail.
Not only does this provide a buffer and better access to tackle potential fires, it creates a mosaic of habitat for other species to grow where heather was otherwise dominant. Recently we’ve been able to plant sphagnum within some of the wetter cuts to add extra protection and diversity.
The moorland edge around Dove Stone has the potential to be scrub and woodland, providing benefits such as reduced flooding, improving water quality, preventing landslides and increasing diversity. Woodland in combination with a healthy blanket bog will increase resilience at Dove Stone, deliver ecosystem services that will help combat climate change; not to mention provide habitat to many species that have previously declined within the peak district.
In 2017 we made a start creating a woodland in Heyden Valley by planting 12,000 trees with the help of our volunteers. All of our trees are native and have guaranteed provenance within the local region to prevent spread of diseases.
Rhododendron is a problem species for the reserve. Before the RSPB and United Utilities started a partnership, there was an alley of Rhododendron below Ashway Gap picnic area.
When they begin to seed, they were likely walked up onto the moors on people’s shoes or blown up through the wind. If let to grow and seed on the moors there would be a significant amount of non-native species diluting the potential for more diversity. In-between conservation work we actively seek out any Rhododendron and remove it on sight.
Building connections within the local community is at the heart of what we do at Dove Stone. Since the beginning of the project we have had volunteers contribute over a whopping 46,000 hours of their time to help restore this key habitat and landscape.
We certainly wouldn’t have been able to deliver most of our restoration work without them and we always welcome new volunteers!
If you would like to get involved in blanket bog restoration, then please contact:
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