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Putting back the pieces, peat by peat

24 September, 2021
By Rhys Aneurin, RSPB Cymru Communications Officer

It is easy to often feel disheartened and overwhelmed when it comes to the immense challenges we face as a result of the nature and climate emergencies. But it is also important to celebrate the wonderful work that goes on across Wales to counter these crises, to raise awareness, and encourage others to join at this critical time.

The Climate Coalition, our UK-wide partner coalition, are planning the Great Big Green Week – a national call for action on climate change. Thousands of grassroots events around the UK will be taking place from 18 to 26 September that collectively will raise awareness of the nature and climate emergency and help build momentum for COP26 later this year. Climate Cymru are supporting this with hundreds of events across Wales.

As part of the week, Climate Cymru present the Green Tour of Wales – a road trip around Wales in electric vehicles, showcasing inspirational stories from communities on the front line of tackling climate change in Wales. One of the stops will be at our RSPB Lake Vyrnwy reserve, where we will be showing off our peat bogs – and the wonderful wildlife to be seen there.

But before we get into that – what exactly are peat bogs?

Peat is a dark looking, soil-like material that builds-up over thousands of years. It forms in very wet conditions where dead plants and organic matter cannot fully decompose. Peat bogs are beautiful landscapes, vitally important to people and nature.

There are two types of peat bog; a raised bog, found in the lowlands, and blanket bogs in the uplands. In Wales, there are important areas of peat bogs found in places like the Migneint in Snowdonia, the Cambrian Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. RSPB Ynys-hir and RSPB Mawddach also hold important areas of peat bogs.

Meet Peat – the friend of Flaura and Fauna

Peat bogs is an important habitat for a plethora of different birds, plants and animals. Rare sphagnum mosses that can hold 20 times their weight in water thrive here, as well as species of rare lichens. Peat bogs are also important for ground nesting birds like black and red grouse and the elegant hen harrier. Waders such as curlews, golden plovers and dunlins also breed here, and it’s an important habitat for butterflies and beetles.

Not only are peat bogs important for wildlife, they’re also valuable to people. Let’s start with climate change. With the planet warming up at an unprecedented scale, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nature can also help us, by locking up carbon in the land rather than releasing it to the atmosphere.

In Wales, we have over 90,000 ha of peat-rich areas – that’s the equivalent to 112,500 football pitches. Safe to say that these areas are important assets in our fight to tackle climate change. Peat bogs can also be useful to manage floods. A peat bog is essentially a big sponge that soaks up water. When it rains (it usually does here in Wales!) the water is held in blanket bogs and released slowly to the sea. This means that the flow of water is regulated, which is a big help in stopping flash floods from occurring. Peat bogs also provide us with a precious water source during dry summers, as well as acting as a big water filtering system.

Given the importance of peatlands to wildlife and people alike, and the threat it faces from further degradation, the team at Lake Vyrnwy has been busy restoring and enhancing areas of damaged blanket bogs.

Hope with Hafren

Over the past months, we have worked with site owners Hafren Dyfrdwy to restore areas of damaged peat at lake Vyrnwy. We have an ambitious target of restoring over 600 hectares of degraded peat and if all goes well, we hope to expand this to a total of more than 1,000 hectares.

The work started last winter, and it’s been encouraging to see the habitat responding to the work we’ve already done, with pools and ditches filling up with water and thick carpets of sphagnum mosses reforming. We now hope to continue restoring degraded blanket bogs over the next five years.

In a few years’ time, we hope that this landscape will be returned to its former glory, will be brimming with wildlife, and will be protected for future generations to come.

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