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Read all about it: Giant sponges on Holcombe Moor!

On 30 September 2021 a fascinating talk was given at Cronkshaw Fold Farm, Helmshore, by National Trust area ranger Nik Taylor. He and his team have constructed around 3.500 peat ‘bunds’ on a large area of Holcombe Moor above Ramsbottom and Bury.

This has two objectives, i.e. (a) to slow the flow of water off the moor following heavy rain and (b) to lock up carbon in the sphagnum moss which has been planted in the resulting soaked ground. The bunds are scallop-shaped banks which hold back the water.

Around half a million sphagnum moss ‘plugs’ have been planted, which over the years to come will replace the peatland which had gradually been degraded. This was as a result of a combination of air pollution in the industrial era, over-grazing, moorland fires, peat digging and erosion.  The sphagnum moss can absorb very substantial quantities of water and so can be regarded as a large number of giant sponges.

The blanket bog had accumulated over some 6,000 years and had reached a depth in some areas of three metres. Such peat stores considerably more carbon than trees, over an area of the same size. The work undertaken will contribute significantly to the efforts to combat climate change and global warming.

The project also included the creation of 403 stone and 308 peat dams, designed to further slow the flow of water. It is likely that these ‘leaky dams’ have already paid dividends in avoiding flood damage to communities downhill, at the time of Storm Christoph in January 2021.  Those communities had suffered from floods in previous years, especially on Boxing Day in 2015.

Other benefits arising from the work include the attraction of wildlife which had previously declined in the area, including golden plovers, dunlin and curlews.

This project was the result of a combined effort by the National Trust, the Moors for the Future Partnership, Natural England and the Holcombe Moor Commoners’ Association.

For those who missed Nik’s talk, the good news is that the intended walk on the moors which was to have taken place at the same time had to be postponed due to bad weather.  So, watch this space for more details!