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  • Carys Mainprize

The Mentoring Scheme

CCC Intern Vicky shares her experience as a mentee on our Bare Peat restoration training programme, a partnership project with Buccleuch and supported by PeatlandACTION.


 

On Monday the 6th of March 11 of us headed up into the Lowther Hills with excitement and trepidation – threats of snow, ice, temperatures feeling like -17, and a week of suboptimal conditions awaited us. We were off to commence a 2-week mentoring course in bare peat restoration on a heavily degraded, upland peat bog. As usual, the weather predictions were less than accurate and we had sunshine and blue skies for the first week! It was absolutely beautiful up there – surrounded by hills and no other people or civilisation in sight. That’s the real beauty of working on peatland restoration – it’s usually in remote, hard to access places, where birds, small mammals, and other wildlife thrive.


The mentees arrive on site.

The site we were working on, owned and managed by Buccleuch Estates, had already undergone 2 phases of restoration over the past 2 years. These phases utilised machines and tackled the areas feeding into the bare peat area. The larger eroded hags and gullies had been reprofiled, and the extensive artificial drainage system on the hills had been systematically dammed. The only section left to restore was the collection point for all the drains and gullies where the water has been concentrated over decades, eroding the peat by over 2 metres in some areas.


When peat bogs are in an actively eroding state, they can release anywhere from 19 – 23 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year! If we can restore the bare peat and change the condition state of the bog from actively eroding to artificially drained, the carbon emissions decrease to 4 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year! That’s such a significant difference with some relatively minor interventions.


Our task was to slow the flow of water running through the bare peat area to allow the earth to stabilise and give the vegetation a chance to recover. The peat bog is so degraded in this central zone that it’s impossible to bring machines in to work (they tried and machines were bogged!) That’s why we needed to complete this phase of work by hand. Seven of us participated in the mentoring scheme overseen by Lewis and Anna of Crichton Carbon Centre. The group was a mixture of machine operators, consultants, employees of Buccleuch Estate, and me, the CCC Intern!


Lunchtime on the bog!

We spent the first day walking around the site and identifying areas where interventions were required. Anna and Lewis already had the site mapped out but they allowed us mentees a chance to choose areas for intervention and to decide which technique to use. We used a combination of coir logs, coir netting geotextile, and timber dams. We used all natural materials in our restoration – the coir logs and geotextile are made from coconut fibres and the timber dams were constructed using untreated wood. This means that over time they will degrade and what’s left will be a fully revegetated blanket bog!

Beautiful blue skies while the mentees worked.

We installed timber dams in areas where there was extremely high flow, usually at the end of artificial drains that had started to erode into gullies, and in high water flow pathways throughout the bare peat area. The timber dams are not there to completely stop the flow of water, but rather to slow it down and reduce the energy of flow. We cut a v-notch into the top plank to allow excess water to spill over the top in a concentrated central flow in order to reduce the erosion of the gully sides. A spill plate was used below the v-notch to avoid a large hole eroding out at the base of the gully. Installing these dams required strength and teamwork and resulted in great banter in the team, with comparisons to super athlete, David Goggins! “Who’s gonna carry the boats!?”


A series of timber dams installed with overflow notches.

A timber dam and running water.


Coir logs were used at the base of high water flow areas to again slow the water flow but to also allow water to slowly seep through the log, much in the same way the sphagnum moss acts in a functioning peat bog. These were usually installed on your own or in a team of two and required skill to dig them in to just the right height and to choose the most effective placement (primarily at specific pinch points). This proved challenging as even though the skies were blue, the ground was completely frozen. It’s difficult to get a proper seal on coir logs when you’re dealing with 4 inches of frozen peat!


The frozen conditions on the peatland made work tricky.
A chunk of frozen peat.

The third intervention used was a geotextile made from coir netting. This we laid out in sheets over the bare peat faces (hags), secured with wooden stakes at their top edge, and pinned flush to the peat using smaller wooden pegs. The purpose of the geotextile is to cover the exposed bare peat, protecting it from wind and water erosion. Once covered and secured the vegetation is able to grow through the geotextile and revegetate the bare peat. This revegetation is an essential part of stabilising the bog as once the bare peat is covered in sphagnum moss, cotton grass or heather it is protected from further erosion.


Laying out geotextiles over bare peat.
Proud mentees over their pegged down geotextile!

I really enjoyed this mentoring scheme and learnt so much in the way of peat restoration. We saw the site in times of extreme frost, covered in snow, torrential rain, and the most common weather – wet and drizzly! This gave me an insight into how variable sites can be and that no matter how many times you survey a site, it can still surprise you.


Frozen water on the peatland.
Mentees working on the thawed peatland.

When designing restoration projects, it is essential to see the sites in all these weather conditions as you can get a better understanding of the hydrology. Areas which we assumed would be flowing with water when we saw the frozen site, were in fact hardly flowing at all when the ground thawed and the rain arrived! Gullies which we thought wouldn’t have that much water input into the site were in fact moving quite a significant amount of water. This was a reminder to always have a flexible approach to peatland restoration and create restoration plans that can be adapted based on different weather conditions.



 

If you would like to know more about our partnership with Buccleuch, you can read about the exciting new collaboration here.

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