Peatland restoration on the Cheviot

A major peatland restoration project covering an area roughly the size of 241 football pitches, has just got underway on the summit of the Cheviot, the highest peak in Northumberland National Park to help in the fight against climate change.

England’s peatlands play a significant role in storing carbon and are capable of capturing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as being wonderful habitats in their own right. Erosion caused by weather, grazing or land use can expose the peat and lead to the release of carbon into atmosphere.

The project is one of the largest peatland restoration projects in the North of England covering 151 hectares and will prevent an estimated 585 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year, once restored – equivalent to the greenhouse gases emitted by an average car travelling 1.43 million miles.

North of England Peat Partnership

The restoration on the summit of the Cheviot is the latest project to be undertaken as part of The North of England Peat Partnership, which in 2018 secured funding from Defra as part of a £10 million government peatland grant scheme. This project helps to deliver a specific action identified in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and is an example of how the work of  Northumberland National Park Authority is helping to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

Following considerable preparation and planning due to the remoteness of the area and sensitivity of the site, work has just started. The summit plateau, usually home to a few hardy walkers, species of birds and insects, will have specialist diggers working to reshape the peat haggs to enable plants to grow and prevent further erosion.  Later in the year native plants, including heathers, cottongrass and sphagnum mosses will be harvested from the valley below and flown up by helicopter to be planted and help protect the bare peat.

Gill Thompson, ecologist at Northumberland National Park, explains: “Peatlands are the largest terrestrial store for carbon, more than all the trees around the world combined, and it is therefore vital to keep these in good condition to reduce carbon release. On healthy peatlands, the plants absorb carbon out of the air and lock it up, but when the peat is bare, carbon is released into the atmosphere. Through this project, we aim to help native plants get established and then continue to grow in what are quite harsh conditions.

Highest altitude project

“The peatland restoration on the Cheviot is the highest altitude project to be undertaken as part of The North of England Peat Partnership, and it does present a number of challenges – not only in terms of getting machinery to the summit but also people, as every day the team working on the project need to walk an hour up Northumberland’s highest hill to get to work, but the views are stunning!

“In addition to helping to make a difference to the UK’s target to reduce carbon emissions, the benefits of peatland restoration include less peat erosion into the Till and Tweed rivers below, improving water quality for migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and lampreys. It also helps to reduce flooding downstream and protects the habitat for important plant and animal species, including here on the Cheviot golden plover, dunlin and mountain bumblebees.”

Also commenting on the project, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said:

“Our degraded peatland emit an estimated 11 million tonnes of carbon annually. Our upcoming peat strategy will set out our plans to correct that and the partnership’s restoration project on the Cheviot is a great example of what can be done.”

The project will also include opportunities for volunteers to do their bit to help tackle climate change at a number of volunteer days and events that will be taking place in the coming months.

Northumberland National Park working with Northumberland Wildlife Trust is hosting two volunteer days on Tuesday 17 and Thursday 19 of September 2019 where volunteers will help to collect and plant Sphagnum moss on the summit. There will also be an exciting series of two-day residential projects in October and early November.

To find out more or to register as a volunteer, please contact: [email protected]