Putting nature back into the Peak District

Wading birds gathered in record numbers at Dove Stone in the Peak District this breeding season, all thanks to an ambitious ongoing bog restoration programme implemented by United Utilities and the RSPB.

Over the summer, RSPB staff and volunteer surveyors recorded 49 pairs of dunlins at the Saddleworth site, up a quarter from the 39 pairs observed in 2014 and up five pairs on last year’s previous record of 44. With the increase in breeding Dunlin mirrored, also, in Dove Stone’s Golden Plover, which increased from 92 pairs in 2014 to 110 this year.

Dunlin, small wading birds that love breeding in wet hilly places, have been gradually increasing at Dove Stone over the past decade after virtually vanishing from the Peak District in the early 2000s. Golden plovers are medium-sized wading birds that also favor nesting on wet bogs and, likewise, their numbers have been steadily growing at Dove Stone in recent years.

The RSPB, which manages Dove Stone in partnership with landowner United Utilities, has discovered a direct correlation between this increase of breeding wading birds and the restoration of blanket bog at the site.

Healthy blanket bogs, which are found on wet hilly plateaus, can provide great benefits both for people and wildlife. As well as provide insect food for birds, they lock up harmful carbon, improve water quality by acting as a natural filtration system and prevent flooding by slowing down the water flow. However, like much of this habitat in the UK, Dove Stone’s had been damaged by past industrial air pollution with the surface vegetation and peat-building sphagnum mosses having almost completely died out, leaving large areas of bare, dried out peat.

Since 2005, United Utilities and the RSPB have been working to restore Dove Stone’s bog by covering the bare, damaged peat with new vegetation, blocking gullies to raise the water table and sowing new sphagnum moss. The increase in breeding waders appears to be rising in direct response to the improving habitat.

Dave O’Hara, RSPB site manager at Dove Stone, said: “It’s no coincidence that numbers of breeding waders at Dove Stone began to increase at the same time we began to restore the blanket bog with our partner United Utilities. It’s gratifying and inspiring to see our continuing restoration work paying off with more and more wading birds nesting here every year. 

Thanks to generous funding from WREN, we are currently in the middle of Sowing the Moss, a three year project where we are working with volunteers to plant more sphagnum, which will help rebuild the bog. Restoring Dove Stone’s bog is a huge long-term undertaking but it’s such an important habitat that brings so many benefits for wildlife and people that it’s well worth all the effort that everyone has – and continues – to put in.”

Ed Lawrance, Catchment Partnership Officer at United Utilities, said: “The moorland restoration work is a long-term project, originally driven by our approach to improve water quality in a sustainable way, reducing treatment costs for our customers.  It’s wonderful to see the dramatic result it has had for wading birds at Dove Stone. It’s a brilliant example of a win-win partnership and we are very proud of what’s been achieved.”

Follow all the latest Northern England RSPB news on Twitter at @RSPB_N_England

Cover image courtesy of Matt Tillett, licensed via Flickr Creative Commons.


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