Peatland plateau turned into ‘giant sponge’ with 3,500 pools to absorb carbon - National Trust

A moorland plateau near Manchester has transformed into a ‘giant sponge’ after conservationists built thousands of peat bunds to tackle the effects of climate change.

Aerial photos released today reveal almost 3,500 low, scallop-shaped banks of peat – which allow water to pool behind them – spread across the landscape at Holcombe Moor in the West Pennines.

The National Trust together with Moors for the Future Partnership, Natural England and the Holcombe Moor Commoners’ Association, spent six months creating the bunds as part of plans to improve the condition of the peat, enabling it to store carbon while boosting bird numbers and reducing flooding downstream.

Work also involved building 403 stone dams and 308 peat dams to further slow the flow of rainwater running off the plateau and planting half a million sphagnum moss plugs to create boggier habitats and hold moisture in the soil.

It is thought that interventions may already be having some effect, with the flood-prone communities at the bottom of the moor avoiding damage during Storm Christoph earlier this year.

Maddi Naish, Rural Surveyor at the National Trust, said: ‘If you imagine a giant sponge which is covered in thousands of small holes and can hold large quantities of water – that’s what we’re aiming for here. The peat bunds stop rainwater rushing across and off the plateau and instead trap it on the moor, allowing special plants to thrive which help the peat to absorb carbon from the air. These interventions provide a range of other benefits too, including reducing flooding downstream, improving water quality and attracting rare wildlife, such as golden plover and dunlin which have declined in recent years. Peatlands only cover a tiny percentage of the world’s land but are superheroes when it comes to storing carbon. We’re just a stone’s throw from a major city so it’s incredible to think we live alongside a habitat that is rarer that rainforest globally, but which contributes so significantly to tackling climate change.”

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