THOUSANDS of people walk over and around them each year as they follow footpaths across Dales moorland, but few people appreciate the importance of the humble peat bog.

In the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s website blog, Jenny Sharman, restoration officer for Yorkshire Peat Partnership describes peat landscape as ‘the Amazon on our doorstep’.

She spent a year surveying Fleet Moss, between Buckden and Hawes, paving the way for major restoration works which started in March.

It is a landscape of hags, bare peat and erosion channel.s

“Fleet Moss can be seen from space,” says Jenny. “All that carbon we have lost is contributing to climate change in a big way. Peatlands are our rainforests.”

At the Skipton offices of Yorkshire Peat Partnership they’ve nicknamed Fleet Moss the Somme, such is the devastation at the site.

“It’s dead land effectively. Degraded bog is no good to anyone, for farming, for shoots, for people, for anything,” she said.

Water from one side of the bog runs off into Barden Beck and then into Semerwater, one of only two natural lakes remaining in the Yorkshire Dales.

Such has been the amount of peat washed down, Semerwater has partially silted up and its waters have become opaque and more acidic.

Fleet Moss is the moorland in the centre of the horizon. Water from Fleet Moss runs off into Semerwater.

During high rainfall, torrents also flow off Fleet Moss on to the other side of the watershed – into Oughtershaw –and ultimately into the River Wharfe, adding to flood risk downstream.

Until the late 1950s, the bog at Fleet Moss would have consisted of a layer (or ‘blanket’) of peat some four metres deep. About a metre of peat is thought to form every 1,000 years. This was a significantly huge store of carbon, as well as a natural facility which held water on the moor.

Today, by contrast, mounds of peat known as hags stand proud of countless channels and gullies. Some of the gullies have a stone bottom (‘it’s gone down to mineral’, as Jenny puts it), with the peat entirely washed away. In others, only a few centimetres of peat remain.

As with other degraded blanket bogs, the causes of erosion are thought to be over grazing, draining and atmospheric pollution. Wildfires, or managed burning, are also a typical cause.

Fleet Moss was identified as a priority site for the Yorkshire Peat Partnership, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. “This site is what started the YPP,” says Jenny.

More than 400 hectares of Fleet Moss have been restored so far. Now funding from Pennine PeatLIFE, Defra and owners supported by agri-environment scheme payments, totalling £510,000, is in place to pay for the restoration of a further 100 hectares over the next three years.

The first stage of restoration at Stake Moss, another blanket bog a few miles away which straddles the high point of the green lane running from Stalling Busk over to Cray and Buckden, was the survey work. Data collected by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is used to create maps which show which way each channel and gully runs.

Vegetation surveys are used to get a full picture of the bog’s condition. The next stage is to dam the channels and gullies. This requires digger work and skilled contractors. Local firm, Marsdens, carried out the work on Stake Moss.

Coir logs are staked across the channels and sediment soon builds up behind the logs. After a year, Yorkshire Peat Partnership staff and volunteers come along to put in plug plants of blanket bog species such as crowberry.

“As soon as we block the channels the hydrology changes immediately. The aim is to keep the water on the moor, for the biodiversity as well as everything else. If we slow the flow, we create the ecology we want,” says Jenny.

Where the erosion has been so bad that the bog has ‘gone down to mineral’, stone dams are created. Stone is lifted to site by helicopter and dropped in position. The stone dams, like the coir logs, stop peat being washed away and lead to the build up of sediment.

Other peatland restoration techniques include installing wooden ‘leaky dams’; creating peat bunds; re-profiling the hags; and covering bare peat with a brash of chopped heather, sphagnum mosses and dwarf shrubs mixed with grass and dwarf shrub seeds.

Jenny says she is impressed by all the work that has taken place on Stake Moss. “It’s like magic to me. Five months ago you’d have seen hags everywhere. What I’m hoping to happen here is that it’ll become amazing spots for birds and insects. But long term funding will be needed to keep building up layer by layer. We’ll need to come back every five years,” she says.

There are 51,160 hectares of blanket bog in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Almost all of this peatland was degraded when Yorkshire Peat Partnership began its work in 2009. In the past 10 years, YPP has restored 18,426 ha, leaving 35,734 ha still to restore. At current rates of restoration, YPP would be on course to complete the work by 2038.