Volunteers providing hands-on help to restore the moors

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Over the last year, volunteers have braved the elements to put in record amounts of time to help restore the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines.

For 21 years, Moors for the Future Partnership have been working to restore these once damaged landscapes, bringing them back from a state of degradation, caused by centuries of industrial pollution, to a green landscape that once again can be home to a rich biodiversity, as well as helping in the fight against climate change.

This work has been helped by the tireless efforts of volunteers joining the Moors for the Future Partnership team to help with essential jobs that bring life back to this damaged habitat.

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The amount of work accomplished by volunteers had been curtailed over the last 5 years, but the Moor Climate Action projects, have enabled volunteering to become a centrepiece of the Partnership’s work, with volunteers providing over 1,100 hours of assistance.

Volunteers have been planting sphagnum moss in the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines.Volunteers have been planting sphagnum moss in the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines.
Volunteers have been planting sphagnum moss in the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines.

Through the winter months, teams of volunteers took to the hills to plant sphagnum moss. This remarkable little plant is vital to the repair of damaged moorland as it can soak up to 20 times its weight in water, stopping the Moors from drying out, and, due to the unique way in which it grows, creating fresh peat.

Research by the Partnership’s science and monitoring team has shown that the most effective way to ensure fresh sphagnum is successfully installed is to plant tiny plugs by hand. This job is inevitably quite labour-intensive, so the work of volunteers is especially vital.

In the season from 2023–24 season, volunteers planted over 40,000 plugs in sites at the Roaches, Goyt and Snailsden Moor.

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While active work on the moors is paused for now to avoid disturbing ground-nesting birds, when it resumes in late summer, the Partnership is expecting to exceed this total of volunteering in the 2024–25 season.

Each year, volunteers also work for the science and monitoring team, helping to continue a dataset going back nearly 15 years.

Every year volunteers, working with the Partnership, measure the depth of the water table in hundreds of locations, in the annual dipwell campaign. These small wells which are set up in clusters across the moors and checked manually by a team member who blows into a plastic tube as it is lowered into the well. When the tube reaches the water, bubbling is heard, and the resulting depth is recorded. This approach might seem low-tech but it has been proven to be extremely reliable.

Also each year, volunteers join groups to survey vegetation of restored moors, and see what is thriving under these restored conditions.

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Jill and Rob Westrick have been volunteering since 2016 and look after the Roaches community monitoring site, which they visit every month to collect data and measure 15 dipwells.

They also complete vegetation surveys on 30 quadrats each summer. The annual dipwell campaign runs from September to December, which means they are out on the Roaches every Thursday for 12 weeks, no matter what the weather throws at them!

Jill says: “We live in the Peak District National Park, and are surrounded by moors. We love wild places and really care about where we live. Helping out with Moors for the Future has given us the opportunity to help look after this special place, and to meet like-minded people.”

Ketan Alder is one of the newest intake of volunteers having joined for the 2023–24 works season.

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He says, “One of the (many!) things I’ve learnt while volunteering for Moors for the Future Partnership is that attempts to build more resilient ecosystems require both human and material resources, and also a lot of patience!

"I’ve measured the water table on Kinder Scout in the rain, planted sphagnum moss in the Goyt in the wind, and helped spread awareness with the Bogtastic van at Buxton Market in the sun. I’ve learnt heaps from the people around me, and helped build a more ethical relationship with the environment in which I and others dwell.”

Will Ward, Project Manager for the Moor Climate Action project at Moors for the Future Partnership said, “It’s been great to be able to kickstart our volunteering programme this year. The contribution of these enthusiastic and hardy volunteers is invaluable to our work, and it’s always heartening to see how much the volunteers get from making a hands-on difference.

"If people are interested in joining our volunteers, they can contact us via our website – moorsforthefuture.org.uk.”