The South West Peatland Project

The South West Peatland Project

Through funding from DEFRA, the South West Peatland Partnership will restore 1599 ha of degraded peatland on the South West’s iconic moors (Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor). Around 300Ha of this restoration will take place here on Dartmoor.

What is a peat bog?

Peat is a special kind of soil which forms in very wet places. Waterlogged conditions stop dead plant material from fully decomposing and over the years this material builds up layer upon waterlogged layer. Dartmoor’s upland bogs have been accumulating peat for 10,000 years and in places the peat can be 6m deep.

A haven for wildlife

The peat bogs host an abundance of fascinating and colourful plants including sphagnum mosses, cotton grasses and carnivorous sundews. They are also home to threatened birds such as the most southerly breeding dunlin in Europe.

What have peat bogs ever done for us?

Bogs may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they provide important services:

  • Water: 45% of South West Water’s daily water supply for its customers falls as rain on Dartmoor’s uplands before making its way to our taps. Dartmoor’s peat bogs are where nine of Devon’s major rivers originate. Healthy upland peat bogs play an important role in storing and releasing clean water into rivers and reservoirs and preventing flooding.
  • Climate change: Dartmoor’s peat soils store an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon - equivalent to an entire year of carbon dioxide emissions from UK industry.
  • History: The peat is a rich archaeological resource because, as it forms over thousands of years, it stores information about past landscapes and human history.
  • Landscape and recreation: Peat is a key part of the moorland landscape which attracts tens of thousands of visitors and makes Dartmoor one of the UK’s greatest natural wonders.

An urgent problem

Dartmoor’s peatlands have been damaged. Research carried out by the University of Exeter found that just 1% of Dartmoor’s peatland area is still intact, healthy peat-forming bog, whilst lots of the remainder has been severely damaged by drainage, cutting, drying and erosion. Water is coming off the damaged peatlands more quickly, contributing to flood risk downstream. The damaged peat is releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and dissolved carbon and silt into our rivers and drinking water. The wider moorland landscape is changing, as peat dries out and gradually we are losing the wildlife that relies on peat bogs.

If we do nothing, the decay of Dartmoor’s drying peat is likely to accelerate.

The science of peat restoration

Our plans are backed up by cutting edge science. We know peat bogs can be restored, because University of Exeter monitoring of earlier trials showed that our restoration raised the water table by 9cm, attracted more bog loving plants, and resulted in an increase in the number of breeding dunlin.

Through a further research project, The University have identified areas where peatland restoration can have the greatest benefit. Armed with this information, we have carried out detailed surveys of erosion, drainage and archaeology on targeted sites to create detailed restoration plans.

The project

Over three years, we will work on 5 restoration sites to block erosion gullies, drainage channels and peat cuttings, and re-wet the peat. In the years following restoration, peat forming bog plants like sphagnum moss will recolonise restored areas. The re-wetted peat soils will retain water and carbon and peat will begin to form again.

Helping hands

The South West Peatland Project is a truly combined effort to create a better environment for everyone. South West Water has facilitated this project across the three south west moorland areas, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, whilst other members of the partnership have contributed funds or staff time.

Commoners who graze the moor receive payments from DEFRA as part of a ten year agreement to support conservation work. Some of these payments are for peatland restoration. Without the ongoing support from commoners, and the landowner, the Duchy of Cornwall, this work could not take place. We work with the landowners and commoners to ensure that restoration fits with farming practices and public access.