Kerry Morrison: Peat

Environmental artist Kerry Morrison is currently researching peat restoration on Pendle Hill as part of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership. Here she shares an early piece she has written about the site, in response to this process.

PEAT

 

A blanket over the hill

Locking in carbon

Supporting wildlife

Holding in water

 

PEAT

 

An artist

At the beginning of an R&D phase to explore Pendle’s peat

It’s importance

It’s complexities

Why it is necessary to restore the peat landscape o top o the hill

The process of how it is being restored

And how to communicate all of the above through engaging creative processes

 

In a broad brush stroke.

peat is a type of soil

a covering of earth

formed over decades and centuries and millennia

from decaying plant life

in particular, sphagnum moss species

strands clumped together

forming deep pile cushions

Some Sphagnum Species, drawings by Kate Foster, 2015
Photo: Kate Foster

Unlike most soil, peat isn’t created from the breaking down of vegetation by worms

basically, peat is too acid for most worms

plus, it doesn’t have enough oxygen for most worms or aerobic microbes

it is a dense dark un-aerated matter

high in organic material

of partially rotted down mosses and acid loving plants

 

There are a number of things that make peat particularly special and massively important

  • As the plant material breaks down into peat it locks in the carbon dioxide stored in the plant matter. Peat landscape are incredible carbon sinks
  • Peat and the moss vegetation it supports hold water. They swell and shrink with wetting and drying. Like sponges, mosses and peat soak up and store rain water, helping to prevent storm water run off and flooding
  • Peat landscapes support wildlife. Peat, as a very specific type of soil supports a specific ecosystem. The acid loving vegetation that grows on it, the insects that feed from that vegetation and the birds and mammals that feed on them are all supported by peat – and some are unique to upland peat landscapes.

 

Bringing all this back to Pendle Hill…

the geology that is Pendle Hill is covered in peat formed over hundreds and thousands of years

a blanket if you like

but sadly, this blanket’s quilt of vegetation is, in parts, missing

the peat is bare.

vulnerable

to erosion

nothing holding it in its place

nothing growing that will decay and form more peat

 

with the wind and the rain

and footsteps of people and animals

the peat a top o Pendle Hill is washing, blowing and wearing away

as it does,

it releases carbon into the atmosphere, impacting on climate change

as it erodes, so too does the sponge effect. Less peat holding in water

increasing the chances of flooding in towns and villages around the hill

as our weather is effected by climate change conditions

heavy downpours send peat down the hill side

flowing into reservoirs and water courses

discolouring water

and depositing fine sediment, which suffocates fish eggs

decreasing life in our rivers

and decreasing the wildlife habitat of the hill

 

this erosion is happening at a rapid pace

but it can be halted and the hill’s landscape can be restored

With thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding

 

the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnershipis currently restoring Pendle hill’s peat landscape

and this is how it’s being done:

 

Peat restoration experts have taken to the top with diggers and huge coir logs

experts

reading the landscape,

where water is flowing

where the peat is flowing

down the hillside

manoeuvre bare peat with diggers

channelling the water flow and the peat flow

into areas they’ve dammed with coir logs

the water will continue to flow

taking the peat

but the peat will but the side of the coir log

unable to flow further

creating a new profile peat landscape

that will be held in place

by the coir logs

by the sewing of seeds and planting the vegetation

that will grow and thrive and form the quilt

that supports the wildlife

that keeps the peat in place

and replenishes the earth

the

PEAT

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