Peatland restoration in the Cheviots

| 1st October 2019
A lone excavator prevents ongoing erosion by reshaping peat gullies
Northumberland National Park
'Healthy peatlands are the largest terrestrial store for carbon, more than all the trees around the world combined.'

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A major peatland restoration project has just got underway on the summit of the Cheviot, the highest peak in Northumberland National Park. The project will cover an area roughly the size of 241 football pitches and will 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 the atmosphere.

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

Environment Plan

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.

Work has just started following considerable preparation and planning due to the remoteness of the area and sensitivity of the site. 

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.

Carbon store

Gill Thompson, ecologist at Northumberland National Park, explained: “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.

“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.”

Peat strategy

Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister, said: “Our degraded peatlands 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 host an exciting series of two-day residential projects in October and early November. 

This Article

This article is based on a press release from Northumberland National Park. 

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