Moorland restoration vital to reduce flooding, according to research

A restoration scheme on the hills of the Peak District is reducing the flood risk to the towns and villages below, according to researchers from the University of Manchester.

Moors for the Future Partnership has restored over 32 square kilometres of bare peat since its formation in 2003 through a range of methods, including stabilising bare peat, and blocking erosion gullies with dams.

The measures were put in place to tackle the destructive impact of climate change, pollution, wildfires and unsympathetic management of the land which alleviated flood risk downstream in at-risk communities such as Glossop, which was badly affected in 2002.

Using test areas on Kinder Scout, the team that found that re-vegetation of bare peat and damming up gullies reduces the peak volume of flow by 57%, and triples the time between peak rain and peak flow.

Researcher Dr Emma Shuttleworth said: ‘The increase in roughness provided by the vegetation and gully blocks slows the flow of water across the landscape. This lessens the impact of storm events by slowing the delivery of water from hillslopes to rivers below, and if implemented widely can help reduce flood risk downstream.’
Though the restoration work has been pioneered by Moors for the Future Partnership for over 15 years, the focus has largely been on erosion control and improving biodiversity.
The new research shows that flood control can now be added to the many benefits of restoring damaged peatlands as an example of natural flood management.

‘This work presented here is an important step in evidencing how blanket bog conservation reduces flood risk,’ said Dr Dave Chandler, Science Programme Manager at Moors for the Future Partnership.

‘It clearly demonstrates the huge magnitude of this effect in the uplands, confirming our theory that one of the many benefits of repairing damaged blanket bog is a reduction in flow rates from the uplands. It is also an important step in evidencing the key ecosystem services provided by healthy blanket bogs, and the impact of our conservation work for the communities in the valleys below.’

Last year, a section of moorland near Oldham began to be restored after sphagnum moss was planted, which stores water.

The community of Crompton and Shaw in Oldham, which sits below the moorland, is at risk of flooding from the River Beal, and its tributaries.

Over 2,000 plants of mixed Sphagnum species were planted over an area of 2 hectares.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: ‘Peatlands are one of our best natural resources and do a world of good in the fight against climate change by effectively storing carbon. It is therefore, vital that we do all that we can to enhance them.’

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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