New technique aids conservation work on Northumberland moor

The peat restoration project at Whitelee Moor in Northumberland.
The peat restoration project at Whitelee Moor in Northumberland.

Northumberland National Park (NNP) and Northumberland Wildlife Trust have joined forces to work on peat restoration on Whitelee Moor.

Volunteers and staff from both organisations are working with an innovative new technique using coir logs to help restore eroded peat gullies.

The team is confident that the new technique will make a real impact on the 1.5km of eroded gullies, near Carter Fell, just south of the Anglo-Sottish border.

The aim of the work is to slow the flow of water and stop peat sediment from entering the River Rede, which is known for its freshwater pearl mussels that need extremely clean water and gravel beds.

This is the first time that peat restoration using coir – a waste product that comes from coconuts and is pH neutral – logs has been carried out in Northumberland.

The 146 coir logs used at Whitelee also have planting holes in them which allows the logs to have both common and hare’s tail cotton grasses planted in them.

Abi Mansley, Border Uplands Project coordinator for NNP, said: “It is great to bring volunteers from the National Park and the Wildlife Trust together; many hands make light work. We can’t work with machinery on the site because the habitat and the peat are so sensitive, so it is only by hand we can do this sort of restoration work.”

Dan Chapman, estates officer from the Wildlife Trust, added: “Restoring the gullies at Whitelee Moor is a really important step in making sure that the River Rede remains pristine.”

Abi and Dan visited a site in the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) where coir logs had been installed two years ago.

The coir logs – or sausages – are about 30cm in diameter and have mostly been divided into halves and tied back up with coir yarn. The coir logs are then dug into several shallow, wide gullies.

Dan continued: “Many species, including the rare freshwater pearl mussel, rely on the Rede’s clean water and it’s great for our organisations to be working together to improve the quality of this special place. Without the support of the volunteers, my job would have been so much harder, so a massive thank-you to them all.”

Natural England has funded the conservation work. Nick Brodin, senior advisor at Natural England, said: “Whitelee is a site of international importance for its wildlife. It’s great that the Wildlife Trust and the National Park are working together to look at new approaches to restoring and managing this fantastic upland landscape.”

It is hoped that the coir logs will last about five to 10 years before they naturally break down. This will allow time for the bare peat gully walls to become re-vegetated and slow the flow of water.

Dan and Abi are setting up several photo monitoring points in the area to help evaluate the success of the scheme over the coming months and years. If the coir logs work well, there may be more installed on Whitelee and in other peatland areas, as well as more work to speed up the re-vegetation on the gully banks.