Bog Boffin: Why is the conservation of our upland bogs so important?
Did you know the Brecon Beacons National Park is home to over 16,000 hectares of peat bog? But what are upland bogs and why should we care about them?
Peat bogs are areas of anaerobic, water-logged conditions where plant matter becomes compressed and decays very slowly. This creates partially decomposed vegetation called peat. Wales’s cool, wet climate is perfectly suited to creating peat because the bogs need the ground to be saturated with water. Yet, many of the peatland bogs in the Brecon Beacons are under threat with erosion causing the wetlands to drain and dry out. If these critical areas of peatland are damaged or lost, it will have significant implications for the climate crisis.
‘But I come to the National Park to see beautiful flowers, expansive grasslands and colourful birds and butterflies’, you might be thinking. ‘Why should I care about muddy, jet-black bog?’
Healthy peatland bogs are important carbon stores. Richard Ball, Countryside and access projects officer, explains: “Climate change is at the front of everybody’s minds but many people don’t know about the important role bogs play in the fight against the climate crisis. Healthy bogs in good condition support a wide range of flora and fauna and store large amounts of carbon. A bog in good condition will capture and store carbon.”
However, these important carbon sinks are easily damaged by human activity, such as fires, pollution and being trampled by walkers. When the bogs are in poor condition, the peat becomes exposed and starts to dry out, erode and decompose. This is a huge problem because, as they degrade, the carbon stored in the peat is released into the atmosphere.
Richard explains some of the steps we’re taking to protect our bogs: “Surveys help us establish which areas are in greatest need of restoration. Drained bogs will be ‘re-wetted’ to increase the water level and we cover bare peat with heather cuttings, called ‘brash’, to prevent further erosion. This encourages seeds to germinate and provides a protective microclimate so new plants can grow. The roots of these plants also prevent further erosion by holding the peat together. Where necessary, we also reintroduce Sphagnum mosses: a special type of plant essential for healthy bogs.”
Extreme erosion can cause steep peat cliffs known as peat hags to form within the peat, which have a draining effect and leads to vegetation loss and drying of the peat. To protect these areas, turf is temporarily removed by diggers and the slopes reduced to gentler angles of around 30 or 45° before re-planting the turf. Sometimes, a biodegradable, water-permeable, biodegradable fabric is used to stabilis the peat until plants can grow through and become established within the ecosystem.
As a visitor to the Brecon Beacons, you can play a part in protecting our peatland bogs:
- ·Stay on the stone paths: our team has worked hard to restore paths across the uplands so visitors can experience this important ecosystem without damaging it.
- Don’t barbecue or start fires: disposable barbecues generate a surprising amount of heat which dries out the peat and can cause it to catch fire and burn underneath. ·
- Volunteer: there are plenty of opportunities to help with our conservation work.
- Keep dogs on the lead: to prevent dogs disturbing ground nesting birds.
Thank you for helping us keep our peatland bogs healthy and increase their resilience so they can capture and store carbon – rather than emitting it – for many years to come. It also improves water quality and restores the natural ecosystem for the many rare species that rely on bogs – so you can have the best possible experience when visiting our flourishing ecosystems.