Steps are being taken to reverse damage to Oxenhope Moor that could date back to the Industrial Revolution.
The moor has seen areas of vegetation deteriorate over time, drying out the peat that makes up the landscape. This can not only spoil the appearance of the moors, but also lead to dangerous chemicals seeping into the water supply and increase the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
Now the Yorkshire Peat Partnership is working on the moor to ensure the damage does not become irreversible.
Dr Tim Thom, a member of the partnership, has led a field visit to assess the damage at Oxenhope Moor. He said: “There is a lot of peat eroding and washing off the moor. We’re not entirely sure why, it might be past wildfires or heavy grazing.
“There have also been artificial drainage channels dug some time in the past. Peat needs to be wet, so drainage channels on the moors is not a good thing.”
Dr Thom pointed out some of the more worrying effects of peat being washed away, saying it can react with chemicals used to filter drinking water forming carcinogenic compounds. He added: “We have to stop it from getting into the water in the first place.”
And protecting Oxenhope Moor can also help prevent global warming. Dr Thom said: “Peat is all carbon – there is vast amounts of carbon trapped in the moors. If the peat erodes it is going back into the atmosphere. The figures of carbon that could be released are quite frightening.”
The partnership is made up of groups including Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and Yorkshire Water. They have started to combat the erosion by blocking many of the channels, smoothing out gullies and “importing” sphagnum, or bog moss, from other moors to help re-build the vegetation on damaged patches of land.
Dr Thom said: “We have spread fragments of bog moss about. Over time it should spread and re-vegitate the surface of the peat.
“The damage probably started around the Industrial Revolution. Apparently you used to walk on the moors and there were inches of soot on the ground. During the war there was then an increase in grazing because of the pressure for food.”