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GM Mayor Andy Burnham plants Sphagnum moss

GM Mayor Andy Burnham visits Moorland Partnership

He joined a team of volunteers at Dove Stone Reservoir braving the cold weather to plant sphagnum moss – a tiny moorland plant that can hold 20 times its own weight in water and which forms the building blocks of blanket bog.

It was part of a visit to see how a partnership between landowner United Utilities and conservation charity RSPB is helping to bring about landscape scale changes with multiple benefits. 

The two agencies are working together at Dove Stone to tackle a host of different challenges – protecting water quality, improving wildlife habitat, making the land more resistant to fires and floods and reducing carbon footprint.

This way of managing land to increase its “natural capital” is an area that is growing in popularity and which Mayor Andy Burnham would like to see more of across Greater Manchester.

Mayor, Andy Burnham said: “The collaboration between the RSPB and United Utilities is bringing a wide range of benefits, not just to the environment but for people’s health and social wellbeing.

“The work that goes on here, including blanket bog restoration works, together with a range of people engagement events, not only boost local ecosystems but give our residents vital opportunities to get out and enjoy being outdoors.”

“The environment has never been higher on the national and international agenda and projects like this one can only help us achieve our long-term environmental vision.

“I would like to praise all the staff and volunteers who have put in countless hours to make the success at Dove Stone possible and look forward to hearing about the project as it moves forward.”

Chris Matthews is Head of Sustainability at United Utilities and he explained that land can have far more value than previously thought. “Not that long ago we used to think of our land holdings purely in terms of channelling rainwater into our reservoirs.  But a more natural landscape can provide so much more.  This idea of ‘natural capital’ is taking hold and it’s been fantastic to be able to discuss these ideas with the Mayor today, as we share a lot of the same goals.”

The Mayor had a tour up to the moors above Dove Stone reservoir to see the changes brought about by 10 years of bog restoration work. He also helped with some tree planting work taking place lower down the valley.

Kate Hanley is the Dove Stone RSPB site manager and she explained: “By re-wetting the landscape, the rainwater runs off more slowly which means less soil erosion and cleaner water entering the reservoir, helping control water treatment costs. Slowing the flow of water also helps to reduce the impact of extreme weather events – heavy rainfall is less likely to cause flooding and the land is also more resistant to wildfires during dry spells. And our surveys have shown that numbers of wading birds have increased thanks to the improved habitat.”

Crucially, a healthy peat bog is one of the most effective stores of carbon in the world – peat bogs have been described as the rainforests of the UK. A lot of the upland peat bogs in Greater Manchester suffered after the Industrial Revolution due to acid rainfall caused by smog. They declined further after the war when drainage ditches were dug to dry out the peat and provide more farmland for grazing.  The bog restoration work will help to reduce Greater Manchester’s carbon footprint, an aim also close to Mayor Andy Burnham’s heart.