When is a Peat Moss NOT a Peat Moss?

Answer:  When someone wants to build on it!

Despite the increased recognition of the importance of our wetlands as priority habitat.

Technically speaking, lowland raised bog always remains a peat bog in terms of the geological formation of the substrate (the bowl in which the bog was first formed).  The physical features of that can never change without massive geological and structural alteration to a whole landscape.  This would have a huge impact on local biodiversity, species survival and the essential work as a flood control mechanism that a peat bog provides!

Our peatlands are critical for preserving global biodiversity, providing safe drinking water, minimising flood risk and helping to address climate change.  In many parts of the world, peatlands supply food, fibre and other local products that sustain local economies.  They also preserve important ecological and archaeological information such as pollen records and human artefacts (take a look at this nearby find Lindow Man).

Some comments have been made recently to suggest that Carrington Moss is no longer a peat moss.  Whilst we recognise that, in common with many wetland areas around the world, there has been considerable decline, in both the area and the quality of our mossland habitat, we think these commentators are incorrect. 

They may not be aware of the wetlands survey undertaken, in 1995, by Hall, Wells and Huckerby (results available as a publication by Lancaster Imprints, The Wetlands of Greater Manchester), in which the authors concluded that

a substantial body of peat remains at Carrington Moss”.

The chapter on Carrington Moss gives a short precis of the history of the area incuding the damage to the moss caused by encroaching industrialisation.  The document describes the central area of the mossland as “deep peat with a nightsoil covering”.  It also confirms that the “total area surveyed of peat more than 0.3m deep is 325 ha”.  Furthermore, the authors found that the peat depths ranged from “2.7m to 0.3m”. 

More recently, documents within the Heath Farm Lane planning application confirmed that peat “is present in thickness of up to c. 2.5m”. 

So, it would appear that the peat is

still here!

It is true that the ecosystem services traditionally provided by wetland habitats have been diminished here on Carrington Moss, but they are certainly not eradicated (yet).  The frequent sightings of globally threatened species, of birds, wildlife and plants, when out and about on the moss demonstrates the value and importance of this essential habitat.  We are so lucky that our local green space is host and home to over 20 red listed birds, for example.  School trips to the moss have seen the skylark, recent visitors have seen the willow tit and you may have your own sightings to share (don’t forget to record them).

This treasure chest of biodiversity brings so many benefits that we should be enhancing, helping these species populations to recover, reintroducing previously abundant flora and fauna and encouraging residents to take advantage of this (almost) pollution-free environment for their regular exercise regimes. 

Our local peatmosses (both Carrington and Warburton) are highly significant to Trafford’s efforts to address climate change.

You may have also seen that Carrington Lake is back and the moss is once again protecting our local area from significant flooding.  This is its job!  We are very concerned that the planned developments will bring a huge risk of local flooding because the amount of water currently amassed on the moss will exceed the capacity of the drainage systems, as has happened elsewhere. Take a look at our video which talks about the impact of flooding on local residents here (click on the image below)

Carrington Moss 21st January 2021

In addition, whilst there has been significant damage to our peatmoss in recent times, and that has undoubtedly resulted in CO2 being released into our local atmosphere, draining or removing the moss for development will result in a further, and much more immense, release of carbon, impacting not only the local environment but the health of local residents. 

The Heath Farm Lane application, for example, asserts that “United Utilities require that all peat is removed from below the invert level of adoptable drainage” and that the local highways authority “would have a preference for removal of peat from the footprint of adoptable highways”.  The peat will also need to be excavated from below all proposed building construction.  This will release CO2 into our atmosphere!

It should also be remembered that over 50,000 tons of peat was removed when the Carrington Spur was built (source: Motorway Archives, Lancashire Archives, Preston). At a very rough estimate (varying dependent on whether the peat was wet or dry) this could have equated, at that time, to a minimum of 12,000 tons of CO2.

We have explored a number of academic studies which assess the impact of that carbon release.  Our researcher, Dr Charlotte Starkey, has reviewed several assertions in detail, including those set out in the New Scientist (1994), Scientific American (2009) and The Guardian (2017).  The results, when applied to Carrington Moss, were quite diverse, ranging from estimates of over 250,000 tonnes of carbon to over 2,200,000 tonnes of carbon.  Charlotte believes there is likely to be around 2,000,000 tonnes of carbon in Carrington Moss today. 

One of our members, Landscape Architect, Paul Beckmann, has reviewed the Why Mosslands Matter approach.  Assuming the area of peat at Carrington Moss is now c.300 ha. (it was 325 ha. in 1995, as mentioned above) and that the average depth is c. 2m (we know in parts it exceeds 3m), Crawford’s calculations suggest the removal of our mossland would result in the release of approximately 2,400,000 tonnes of CO2 into our local atmosphere.  So, an estimate at the upper end of the range.

This is a critical issue and CO2 release is totally incompatible with Trafford Council’s declaration of a climate emergency and its recently published Carbon Neutral Action Plan.

The protection and restoration of our peatlands is vital in the transition towards a carbon neutral economy and should be added as key objective in Trafford’s Carbon Neutral Action Plan.

So, what shall we do?  Well, the Friends of Carrington Moss has been working with partners from the Wildlife Trusts, Trafford Wildlife, the RSPB, the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, a Rare Plants expert, local bird watchers and other experts to create an alternative transformation strategy for Carrington Moss.  A transformation strategy that results in Carrington Moss becoming a Carbon and Biodiversity Bank

The challenges faced by our local peatland area are not irreversible and, internationally, there is a growing recognition that peatland restoration projects are highly cost-effective when compared to other carbon-reducing technologies or initiatives and there are many other benefits when peat-forming ecosystems are re-established, not least of which is the contribution to Trafford’s (and Greater Manchester’s) Net Zero aims.  Restoring the peat moss will also support the recovery of nature, improve the sustainability of our local soils and will help address the impact of the climate emergency, enabling Trafford to comply with local, regional and national environmental policies.

We’ll be providing more information about our Alternative Transformation Strategy in a future blog and you can find more information about how peatmosses work on the Research page of our website.  We have also shared some information for younger readers in our previous blog “Why is Carrington Moss so important

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