A ONCE badly damaged, National Trust-owned peatland high up on the old West Riding and North Riding boundary is showing clear signs of healing, as contractors begin a fresh round of major restoration work.

Some 12 years ago Cray Moss, located in the centre of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, became one of the Yorkshire Peat Partnership’s first restoration sites.

Over the course of many monitoring visits, including one at the end of January, peat project manager Tessa Levens has gathered evidence showing that large, bare patches of eroding peat have successfully re-vegetated with peat-producing sphagnum mosses. The monitoring has led to a fresh programme of restoration work on Cray Moss, to fix any remaining bare peat. The programme will see work extend into neighbouring peatlands, Chapel Moor and Yockenthwaite Moor.

Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP), which includes the national park authority and this year celebrates its 15th year in operation, is using money from the government’s Nature for Climate Peatland Capital Grant Scheme to pay for the works.

Its contractors on Cray Moss, Dinsdale Moorland Specialists, based in Wigglesworth, are using the latest ‘leaky dam’ designs and re-profiling techniques in order to trap peat sediment and slow the flow of water from the moor.

In its latest annual report, the peat partnership said there were nearly 41,000 hectares of peatland in the Yorkshire part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park – covering about 20 per cent of the national park area.

Of this, initial peat restoration works have taken place on more than 23,000 hectares since the partnership was established in 2009, meaning that the partnership is about half way through the mammoth task of restoring the national park’s peatlands.

Tessa Levens said: “We did the first phase of work on Cray Moss in 2011/12 and now we’re back to fix any gaps. It makes me quite emotional, coming back and seeing that what was done a decade ago is working.

“There were lots of hags and gullies and bare peat. It was densely eroded. Now, where there was lifeless, bare peat, there are sphagnum mosses, grasses and sundew. It’s like a lava-flow of moss has come over bare ground.”

She said as well as carbon sequestration and flood mitigation, the benefits of the peatland restoration for biodiversity were also apparent.

“I have seen lots of emperor moth caterpillars when I’ve done surveys over the years, but here on Cray Moss – in the past year – I’ve seen the moths themselves for the first time. We’ve seen short eared owls most days we’ve been up here; the contractors have seen hen harriers; and there are all the crane flies which will keep the waders – the lapwings and plovers – going when they arrive soon.”

Shelley Rhodes, the National Trust’s local coordinator for peatland restoration, said: “The work at Cray Moss is a model for what other peatlands should look like in the near future. The National Trust has ambitious targets to create or restore 25,000 hectares of new priority habitat by 2025 as part of our wider target to be carbon net zero by 2030, but we’re equally focussed on securing a truly sustainable future for our tenant farmers in the Yorkshire Dales too.

“Increasing resilience to more extreme weather conditions – as we’ve done at Cray Moss – is of great benefit to everyone, and replacing bare peat on our fells with thriving habitats will help ensure that the Dales are hydrologically stable and bursting with biodiversity for generations to come."

She added: “We’re particularly pleased to have worked closely with Yorkshire Peat Partnership, the National Park Authority, longstanding tenants, and specialist local contractors, whom all have the shared passion and expertise to create a better, more sustainable environment in this much-loved part of the world.”

Mark Corner, member champion for the natural environment at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “Blanket bog such as found at Cray Moss holds a nationally-significant store of carbon and it is very good news to see that restoration efforts are working – just as they are at nearby Fleet Moss.

“Degraded peatlands exacerbate flooding events down dale and add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, contributing to the warming of the climate. We must keep scaling up peatland restoration efforts, as the sooner we can restore the bogs, the greater the rewards will be for people and nature.”

The Yorkshire Peat Partnership is restoring peatlands in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks and Nidderdale National Landscape. It is an umbrella organisation funded by Defra, the Environment Agency, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Natural England, Yorkshire Water and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Other partners include the North York Moors National Park Authority, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Nidderdale National Landscape Partnership and National Trust with supporters include the Moorland Association and National Farmers Union.