Latest News….we can now offer canoe trips!

Adrian has been paddling the Tidal River Dart fo at least 40 years, and for many years he was a steersman for Canoe Adventures on their huge 12 man canoes. Now he can offer canoe trips out of Stoke Gabriel on the Dart. Trips are limited to a maximum of 2 canoes (three clients plus leader) and sessions are from half tide to half tide roughly 6 hours a session. They are very weather and tide dependant, so its best to contact us to discuss your needs.

The Dartmoor Way

Recently I walked the Dartmoor Way as my route for the Long Distance Walkers Association Virtual 100 mile event. The Dartmoor Way is actually 108 miles long (and has 16,500 ft of ascent apparently), so I started at Bovey Tracey and walked anti-clockwise to just beyond Ashburton. Some stretches were already known to me, but I walked most of the walk in 20 mile sections ahead of the event to make sure there were no nasty surprises. The more I walked it the more impressed I was.

The Dartmoor way has been around for some years as a named walking trail and as a cycling variant, but signage had deteriorated and Ordnance Survey were threatening to remove it from their mapping so a project officer (Mike Owen) was appointed to re-sign the route and update it where needed. The route has a website and on it you can find maps at 1:50000 scale, Gpx routes and word/pdf route sheets. I recommend the later, because the route description has been interspersed with excellent historical information about the major points of interest you will see along the way, and will greatly enhance your experience of the walk.

Route descriptions start from Ivybridge, going anti-clockwise, Ivybridge being the only point where the mainline railway offers access to the route. However at the time of writing a branchline service from Exeter to Okehampton is soon to be initiated, so it will be possible to do half the route starting and finishing at a railway station. Ivybridge is also one of the better towns in regard to bus services, though we found that buses could be used to access and link up many sections of the route. The route is written in 11 convenient sections, each starting and finishing in a town where transport, food and accommodation can be obtained, each section being 8-12 miles in length. So you can spend a fortnight at it in easy stages, push through it in 5-6 20 mile+ days or, the ultimate madness, walk it all in one go over 40 hours like I did!

So what is the route like? Well it doesn’t really penetrate the high moor, but instead links all the towns and villages around the outer perimeter. In doing so you get a lot of variety (and a lot of ascent and descent). You will experience delightful woodland (at their best in late May when the bluebells are out) cut by lively rivers, you will walk railway track beds, cross pasture fields (and the rare arable one), you will pass industrial archaeology, walk on the balcony route above the Teign gorge, pass clay quarries of vast dimensions, cross golf courses, descend beside waterfalls and be treated to numerous excellent views of the high moor to your left. There will be some stretches of road, but they won’t be busy and are often as scenic as the rest of the walk.

The waymarking has been done well, but already some rotting signposts and gates have been replaced, so inevitably the waymarking is beginning to suffer in some places, but it’s rare you can’t follow it except on the open moor where there is no waymarking. Skill in map and compass are not really a necessity as in bad weather alternatives are suggested and you can usually handrail a linear feature if needed, but being able to map read may enhance your enjoyment and should be an aspiration for anyone venturing onto the high moor. Using the Gpx files on a Gps device will also help get you out of trouble.

The highlights for me were numerous, the whole stretch from Mortonhampstead to Chagford is particularly special, as is the section between South Zeal and Okehampton via Belstone. In both cases its the woodland gorges that really make them. Walking from Bovey Tracey through Water to Foxworthy en route to North Bovey is pretty good too, as is the valley floor path beside the Walkham near Grenofen, although this last has a lot of tree roots to keep you on your toes. There is a pleasant stretch approaching Shaugh bridge from Godameavy and it continues with stunning views of Dewerstone as you walk the pipeline path to Cadover, and of course the open moor stretches either side of Shipley bridge are always enjoyable.

So do I recommend it? Resoundingly Yes, both as an entire route and as a number of long days out. At Hillwise guided walks are our business, so if you aren’t sure about your abilities we would be happy to talk about guiding you around the route and may even be able to arrange baggage transfers if for a group.

Communicating the rewilding message

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how we get the rewilding message across to the people who can act, the farmers, landowners and land managers who have the power to bring about change.

Firstly lets look at where these people are likely to see Rewilding and other environmental messages currently; they may read or hear articles in the media, whether the Times, the Guardian, Farming today or Countryfile. These messages will be headlined to grab attention and often present a sensationalised or confrontational account. Landowners will also see appeals from campaigning groups either trying to raise money presenting extreme cases, or trying to control or proscribe activities on the land, making demands and portraying the farmer or landowner as a pariah. Then there are the experts, people at Defra or elsewhere who may hold the purse strings, may have a lot of theoretical knowledge but whom the landowner has long learnt to treat with suspicion. So the last thing the farmer wants now is some amateur coming him along telling him what he should do!

“Telling” is key here. Without power to inflict retribution no parent successfully told a 4 year old what to do, so why do we think it will work on grown men and women already under pressure to earn a living in difficult circumstances, on (say) a Dartmoor hill farm?

No, to get our message across we need to be more subtle. Instead of talking we need to learn to listen, to probe, to understand, and above all to ask questions. Let me give you an example:

I know a farmer passingly as I buy my milk direct from his farm, so clearly he is already someone open to doing things differently. He is also not likely to be rude to a customer. Suppose one day I were to say to him “I’m quite interested in the Rewilding debate, and I was just wondering, what are the barriers to growing your internal hedges thicker and flailing them less?” No confrontation, and the opportunity to learn something first hand. If I’m lucky he will give me a considered reply (if he’s not rushed off his feet) and I may have the chance to put a second question that goes something like “ So what would need to change for you to consider doing that?” Again I might learn something, and at this point it might be time to leave with my milk.

The point is that I have made him think about something he might not have considered or had written off, and I have made him think about how change might occur. I have not preached and on another day when I’m buying my milk the conversation might resume. I have sowed a seed, planted a worm in his head that might just nag him.

Obviously we don’t all buy milk from the farm gate ( though I would encourage the idea as the farmer gets a lot more for his milk that way and is forced to connect more with his end customers). But many of us do meet farmers and landowners, at parish council meetings, church groups, when they drop their kids at school or nursery, or passing them on your dog walk when they are maintaining their walls or checking their sheep from the roadside. Don’t just launch in, talk about the weather and what a good job he’s making of that dry stone wall, compliment him on his “fine looking beasts”. Become familiar. Then one day seed that idea!

The green shoots of regeneration.

During this past winter, with it’s Covid lockdown, and unusual weather, it would be easy to be despondent about rewilding and the regeneration of nature. Endless reports of dead raptors and poor soil quality, Amazon tree felling and peat burning. At times this winter I certainly felt the weight of impending environmental catastrophe upon me, despite the occasional good news stories like the Langholm moor buyout.

However lately I have been out on Dartmoor training for an impending walk, and in passing through the landscape I have seen much to encourage me. A walk through the woods of the Bovey valley was one such example: these woods are often seen as ancient, but in fact with a medieval farm in the middle of them, much of this area must once have been farm land, rather than woods. Yet here is this woodland. Furthermore, where the wood was interspersed with Plantation forestry this timber is being removed, to give way to broadleaf woodland.

Walking in the area of Smallacombe rocks, I can look down on an area now littered with trees, that I can recall in my childhood as being almost devoid of them. The bog, gorse and clitter in this area seem to have prevented the saplings from being grazed off, and now there is a broad swathe of rowan, holly, blackthorn and the like running from the more established woods on the valley floor almost to the summit ridge.

Further over in the same valley, nearer to Emsworthy, there are numerous young saplings growing up in the gorse. If the gorse is not burned off in the next couple of years, these too will be substantial and another area will have started its journey of re-wilding.

On the last three walks I’ve made I have surprised deer. I’ve been within a metre of one roe deer, and I’ve seen a buck and doe in woods within 50 metres of Ponsworthy splasher. Now I know deer graze trees and there may be too many, but for deer to be a regular sighting in the countryside does lift the spirits!

Walking through Heathercombe where the diseased larch have been felled and extracted I read notices describing the broadleaved species planted in some places to replace them, and similarly on the banks of the Dart near Kingsweir I find the National Trust felling plantation to allow for broadleaved regeneration. It feels like organisations are getting the message.

Descending into the Double Dart gorge on a rough track that drops down the hill from Doctor Blackwalls track, I pass through an area of gorse and bracken and note that the bracken is being managed in a manner that I recognise as being beneficial for some butterfly species, and reaching the flat valley floor there is an extensive area of broadleaved tree regeneration that has occurred pretty naturally, whilst nearby there is a fenced off area with signage indicating that it is being managed for nature.

On the Yealm I have passed the area of Hawns and Dendles where again plantation has given way to broadleaved planting, and where the removal of a weir is being considered for the benefit of salmon and other waterborne species, and nearby at Piles Copse there are efforts to manage the woodland in order to expand its area.

So whilst the high moorland of Dartmoor can seem like a wasteland monoculture of Molinia grass and little else, these areas are under siege from a moorland fringe that is slowly, but remorselessly pressing in on it, bringing more woodland and mixed scrub to the scene, with all the birds, mammals and insects that rely on them. We spend a lot of time discussing how we can encourage regeneration, but looking at it another way, it would be hard work and costly trying to stop it.

Preserving forests for the long term.

I was recently reading “The secret life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben, an excellent read, which I would recommend to anyone interested in developing or maintaining woodland. However as the book went on I started to get a sinking feeling, a feeling of almost hopelessness. The problem is not about identifying sites and planting trees, nor is it about managing the trees. No the problem is the long term protection.

You see when you first plant out a new area with trees, or set aside an area for rewilding, you will not have an instant woodland, in fact after 100 years you will still only have a collection of first growth trees that will not be as strong and interlinked as they need to be. It will only be as these trees die and their descendants rise up around them that things will start to be as they should be. In fact it will take more like 500 years to achieve something like the diverse forest most of us dream of re- establishing here in the UK. So you and I won’t be there to see it, well that’s a pity, but we are generous enough not to let that stop us doing what we think is right aren’t we?

So here’s the rub: we need to protect these trees for 500 years. During that time the trees we plant will go through some varying stages of development. We will watch the trees grow and be pleased with our work, and possibly our children will, but then as the initial planting that has grown too fast due to too little shade, burns itself out, people will look at the forest and think it is dying, or planted in the wrong place, or no longer attractive, or even dangerous. They may view it as a failed experiment, flog the timber and destroy it.

Ok I hear you say, we will protect it legally, we will make laws or establish organisations to protect the forest. Well of course we will…..but think…..500 years! That’s approximately 100 re-elections of parliament, it’s a potential 200-300 changes of the balance of power within a district council. Assuming a man cares for a forest for 20 years, that is 25 generations needed to care for that forest. Take a look at our great institutions: most were started in Victorian times at best and are only a couple of 100 years old. Look at how their outlooks have changed in that time! Our government has only been established in its current form since the English civil war. Trees starting their growth then should still be standing and be productive. Some of our Universities (who incidentally may hold quite a lot of land) are a bit older and could have presided over a forests development in the time they’ve been in existence, but of course forestry is not exactly their prime concern. Most of our laws are less than 500 years old and those that are more than 200-300 years old are generally seen as outdated and irrelevant (think of witchcraft for instance).

So how do we go about creating an institution or law to protect our new forests, to nurture them to maturity and in the process not cause unintended consequences? In the 1st and 2nd World Wars huge amounts of forestry was cut down for the war effort, can we imagine the British public giving in to the Nazis because they wanted to protect the trees? Of course we can’t and in the future there will be other emergencies, other imperatives in the next 500 years. When gifting Glencoe to the National Trust for Scotland in 1937, Percy Unna stipulated rules which bound their hands. It would be easy to argue that some of those rules now work against each other and make it harder to achieve the primitive landscape he envisaged.

Looking at two more institutions we love, National Parks and the NHS, both about 70 years old. I doubt you would find anyone who would want to end the NHS and most people want us to continue our National Park authorities, but looking at their history one can see that they are continuously beleaguered. Interference from politicians who have little understanding of how things work, underfunding, inappropriate funding, or unreliable funding with strings attached, and perhaps most damaging of all, too narrow a remit.

So what do we learn from this? Well if you ask people if they would pay more to fund the NHS they say “Yes”, but they fear their money just disappearing into the Government pot. I think the NHS contribution from tax should be ring fenced, and I believe that this approach might work for some other services. A National Forestry scheme might be one? Certainly there are some things that have such long time lines, that they are unsuited to the short term thinking of a 5 year political cycle (seen in this light the planting of millions of trees after WW2 was an astounding leap of faith). We need our new forests and wild places to be placed outside political control, and their management “lead by the science” as politicians love to say just now.

Taking a look at local land use.

Recently I blogged about Rewilding and the amount of pasture used for horse grazing. Having focused my mind I decided to take things a stage further, so I printed off a OS1:25000 scale, which I had zoomed in on and selected to cover approximately 12 square Kilometres in an area close to my home.

My next step was to colour in all the fields I knew were used for horses in orange. Using Google Earth I then viewed the area and realised that there was an erosion pattern for horse grazing that made other fields easy to spot. I marked each field I suspected with an orange dot, and then worked all my daily dog walks and bike rides out in such a way that I could view and check these locations and fill them in when confirmed. There are, I suspect a couple of horse paddocks I’ve missed, but the result is a fairly complete survey and good enough to get a rough impression of the land use in my area.

So when you look at the map, it’s not hard to gauge that the built environment of Ipplepen, Denbury and the prison jointly account for at least a square kilometre in area, and probably a kilometre and a half. That leaves about 10.5 kilometres square for productive use. Now during the process I started to notice a few other things taking up space in the landscape, including some substantial fields of photovoltaic panels, a fish farm and a caravan site. The field of panels is not grazed, so not productive in a food context, and I don’t think the fish farm is currently operating, and may be more recreational. So taking those areas into account, we have about 10 sq K left.

The next thing to come under the microscope is the woodland, and this one is surprising: when you drive through Devon, it feels well wooded, with high hedges and plenty of oak and ash woodland either side. But when you look more carefully you realise this is smoke and mirrors! The tree cover does tend to follow roads, but it is far less deep than it seems to the casual observer. In the case of my map the Ordnance Survey has depicted the woodland a bit over generously, and I would estimate that the total of all the tree cover shown might be 2 square Kilometres, leaving 8 sq K for food production. However when you look at the way O.S. have depicted the woodland edges, many are not fenced from grazing land and my site inspections showed that many of these were stands of mature trees, grazed below and with minimal understorey or regeneration….so these are deteriorating habitats. Another aspect of these woodlands is that they have survived for a reason. Almost without exception the woods contain rocky limestone outcrops, old lime kilns and quarries that have made the ground unsuitable for most farming practices. The woodland  often represents vestiges of coppicing, possibly for firing the kilns. So it seems this woodland has effectively survived because no one much wanted it, rather than due to active management. There are one or two exceptions: old orchard, a bit of plantation and an area where woodland has grown up on a significant archaeological site. There is one more point I would make about the woodland, it will be where much of the local wildlife, especially mammals and birds are hiding, but these woodland areas are very patchy, and they are poorly joined up. There are lots of hedges, but most are extensively flailed and offer little cover and limited habitat opportunities. Improving these hedges would benefit the connectivity of the woodland areas.

So back to our productive land….about 8 square Kilometres, this is mostly on limestone geology, much of it has thin soil cover, and almost all of it is grazed rather than cultivated. From the map you can see that horse grazing accounts for something like 2 square kilometres (going by eye) leaving just 6 square Kilometres, half our original area to be divided fairly equally between sheep and cattle (both beef and dairy varieties).

Now of course, this is all very approximate, but that is not the point. The process gave me new insights into my local area, a clearer understanding of what is (and isn’t) there, how it is being used and in some cases what to expect to happen if nothing changes. I’d recommend this exercise to anyone in Covid lockdown who wants to do something constructive with their daily exercise and understand their environment better.

Beavering away at Phytoremediation?

It is a strange  that, in my experience, many villagers, in most parts of the country, whilst liking to see a stream pass through their village, would struggle, to describe where that stream rises, which other villages it passes through and where it meets the sea, let alone what pollution risks there might be to that stream.

This week my attention was caught (as it often is) by a piece on Radio 4’s “Inside Science” (available as a podcast), on this occasion it was about Phytomining and Phytoremediation. The piece got me excited and it got me thinking. My first stop (and hopefully yours) was to go to Wikipedia ( ) and inwardly digest as my teachers used to say.

I was already aware of remediation using reed beds to treat sewage (planned) discharge and the overflow ( unplanned) discharge from abandoned tin mines. I was also aware of the limited botany of many Cornish valleys caused by Arsenic discharge during the tin mining processes of past years.

On a completely separate train of thought I had been thinking about Beavers, and the slightly “chicken and egg” situation involved in their reintroduction, in that we want Beavers to modify habitat for flood prevention and water quality reasons, but we first need suitable habitat in which to introduce Beavers. That is to say Beaver reintroduction needs rivers with suitable bankside trees. These two strands of thought were to end up converging.

Back in my youth (in the 70’s) a chromium plating mill was prosecuted for discharging heavy metals into a  tributary of an important salmon river. It was claimed that this was accidental, and we need not contest that now, but the point is that it was easily foreseeable that 1. If there was a discharge from the mill, this stream would be the unlucky recipient and 2. Of the pollution risks on that stream the plating mill was the pre-eminent one (farm slurry being the second risk to it, followed by pollution from homes in the village it ran through).

On researching the Phytoremediation I realised that, whilst it had a lot of promise, it usually got used “after the horse has bolted”, and so any scheme is playing catchup with in the context of a pollution incident. I saw that there were plants capable of remediating large quantities of chromium (and Arsenic for that matter), and I made the connection with that chromium plating mill. So what if the remediation had been put in as a planning requirement, long before any pollution incident, if the stream banks down stream had been planted with suitable vegetation? The planting would be mature and capable of handling substantial discharge. I doubt it would completely mitigate the pollution, but it would reduce it, and what’s more, the phytoremediation would be acting before we humans were even aware a pollution incident had taken place.

So next I thought about how this might be enhanced, and that’s when the Beavers popped back into my mind. With Beaver on that stream, we could expect slower downstream flow, along with increased particulate filtration. If we were to be planting for Phytoremediation it would be on the environs of drainage courses of one type or another, and would promise excellent potential beaver habitat as it matures.

In the rewilding and regenerating forums, I’ve seen a lot of debate about planting the right tree in the right place, verses lets just get something in the ground, and lots of debate between planting verses natural regeneration. I haven’t yet noticed much about considering Phytoremediation when planting. It might be a bit too “Hi Tech” for some of us, but I think it should be in the mix.

Horses in the Rewilding landscape

In the last few weeks I have blogged on various rewilding subjects

( and amongst others) and in those blogs and the responses to them, there seemed to be a broad consensus towards a British landscape where we have blanket bog on uplands where it is currently, or has been, and woodland on the marginal lands, often steep, rocky, hard to farm,(ideally regenerated, but planted where necessary). This leaves most food production on much of the lowlands. This is a broad brush description of an idealised countryside, but you get the idea.

One of the tensions of “Rewilding” is between the need to restore biodiversity to the landscape and the need to grow or produce food. Often we are told that we cannot waste good food producing land on trees. Only last week I saw a press release by an estate announcing a programme of tree planting, and at my last glance it had received approximately 650 negative comments about destroying good farmland. Clearly there is a lot of sympathy out there in the real world for this viewpoint, but if we are to take it seriously we need to consider horses.

Over the last 50 years living in the South West of England, I have been noticing a steady increase in land given over to horses. Not any old land but good productive farmland. This is not the regular rotation of land use chopping between arable, and grazing sheep or cows. With horse grazing you quickly see the construction of stable blocks, an application for ancillary accommodation, and in some cases eventual establishment of new permanent housing. Of course in the past we had far more horses in the landscape than we do now. Horses powered our farming and transport. However we  also had a much smaller population, so less land was needed for human food production and more land could be spared for horse grazing and fodder. Many of those horses never saw a field, being kept in stables in cities and fed with fodder produced in the countryside. This would have been grown long and cropped more efficiently than occurs when horses graze fields, as they trample as much as much as they eat. As in so much of life, it’s all about balance.

At this point some of you will be starting to think I’m anti-horse, but that is far from the case. I love to see horses in the landscape. They aren’t native, but they have been here a long time. They have shaped our landscape and have a place in it’s future. In my area heavy horses are still used to remove timber in sensitive woodland. Horses are used for conservation grazing, as they will trample and graze areas that cows or sheep will avoid, in particular they keep back bracken. Another feature of horses is they have a very different stomach to ruminants like cows, and this means that they are much better at seed dispersal, as any allotment holder who’s used their manure will tell you! Horses don’t crop grass as short as sheep either.

So the paradox is that currently our uplands could stand more horses and ponies, where they are being reduced to minimal levels, due to there being no market for hill ponies to sustain their keeping, (in many cases you can buy a hill pony for less money than the cost of it’s annual inoculations), whereas there seem to be increasing numbers of horses grazing the rich productive lowland pastures that will be needed if we are to rewild the marginal lands in the middle. These horses are generally for recreation and sport, either amateur or commercial, and each horse seems to need quite a lot of field. Its not a conversation that’s getting much of an airing yet, but I think it’s one we will have to have, if we are to regenerate as much woodland as we need to. A case of horses for courses?

Choosing your outdoor gear……..think in terms of systems.

It never ceases to amaze me how quick we are nowadays to ask the public at large for advice on purchases. On every outdoor forum you will see “l need some new boots….looking for recommendations”. Really? Well apart from the obvious fact that everyones feet are different, the uses to which they will be put will also be as unique and varied as we ourselves are……and they will have to fit in with our systems and behaviour. As buyers we seem petrified of going to a shop and asking for advice from the staff there in case they try to sell us something we don’t want. This is particularly weird as shop staff are trained to first establish your needs and wants before pointing you at anything you might want to buy!

In this blog I want to explain the importance of considering your systems when purchasing kit. Lets take stoves as an example. There are gas stoves, pressurised paraffin and petrol stoves, meths stoves, wood burning stoves, stoves that have dedicated pots, stoves that have heat reflecting bases, stoves that convert other stoves, stoves that have windshields and stoves that need wind shields.

So if you want to buy a new stove, you need to think about what it is for, are you just boiling water or cooking haute cuisine? Is it just for you or are you catering for a family of 5? How many days use will it get in a row without purchasing more fuel and how that might influence the choice. For example a liquid fuel paraffin stove is one of the heavier stoves around, but even in winter it will only use 90ml of paraffin per person per day (based on a good breakfast, three course evening meal, loads of tea and a litre flask for lunch). Therefore if you are going on a 5 day trip the saving in weight of fuel will probably offset the weight of the stove itself quite well.

Having thought about your needs, you also need to think about what you have already. I once bought my son a small cannister top gas stove and a good quality heat exchanger pot. I lit the stove filled the pot and placed it on the stove, which it immediately fell off. The two were not compatible, the supports of the stove slipped between the fins of the heat exchanger, causing the pot to tilt and spill. You see we cannot consider these things in isolation. I modified the same stove and we used it on a windy hilltop. It had been really fast at home, but on that hilltop it had an inadequate windshield, and none of those I owned would do the job, the stove was too tall…..again it needs to integrate into your system.

Sometimes a stove comes as a complete system, witness the Jetboil or the MSR Windburner, an integrated stand, fuel source, burner and pot. All you need to do is make sure your spoon is long enough! However systems like this are inflexible and only applicable to quite narrow requirement criteria, in this case where you need to do little more than boil water.

Sometimes you are doing something extraordinary and everything you buy is for that trip, and that trip only. Here you may be buying all the components of the system from scratch. Nice if you have the cash, but again you will waste cash if you fail to consider all the cooking components as a complete system.

Ok we have talked about stoves, but this concept is just as true across all gear requirements. Your sleeping bag/liner/cover/bivvi bag/sleeping mat/long-johns and vest combination for instance . Often I am serving in a well known outdoor gear shop and a customer will show me a jacket and say “will this keep me warm?” obviously I ask where and when it will be used, but equally I am asking with what base-layer, with what shell jacket etc, every item of clothing you wear or carry is part of a system…..sometimes two systems. Think about the battery in your torch…it might also fit your GPS, your camera, your radio. Sometimes we need our systems to integrate!

So look at reviews, read magazine tests, ask on forums by all means, but when you go to buy your crampons, take your winter boots and make sure the crampons fit before you leave the store, and if you use yeti gaiters take them too….it’s all part of your system.

Blanket bog restoration…..a real emergency.

Mollinia (Purple moor grass) taking over an area of Blanket Bog

Climate change is happening, and we need to act, so that means planting more trees right? Well yes that will help, although it requires a more nuanced approach than just chucking any old tree in on any bit of spare land. However in the UK there is an arguably equally powerful tool, which if left unused is a double edged sword, a ticking time bomb, that will negate much of our tree planting…..”Blanket Bog Restoration”

Firstly I need to clarify here that I am mainly talking of Blanket Bog, which is areas of peat which are wetted entirely by rainfall, as opposed to Valley Mires which have an element of stream fed wetting.

Blanket bogs have had a bad press, even the name bog suggests a trip to the khazi, and there is nothing glamorous about the work. Unlike tree planting that can be done by primary school groups, Bog restoration is cold, wet work in remote places, using some very heavy machinery, and lots of technical knowledge. It has to be done in the winter months when the birds aren’t nesting, and its filthy work. Volunteers have their place, but this work needs to be professionally led, and seriously funded.

The problem is it has to be done NOW. If we leave it, the remaining peat will erode, releasing carbon, as fast as we can plant trees to keep up with it. There is far more carbon locked up in UK peat bog than is held in all our forestry, but it is declining fast.

To take a case study, about a third of Dartmoor has a peat covering, of varying depths, over 100 square km in total. However only 1% of this area is considered to be still  functioning as blanket bog, laying down peat, supporting bogland flora and fauna, sequestering carbon and retaining water, slowing river flashing. The rest is becoming a monoculture of purple moor grass, or drying out and draining into our rivers and drinking water. We need to stop this right now. Dartmoor National Park and South West Water are carrying out an innovative three year restoration project aiming to restore about 300 hectares of blanket bog. They have a number of targets that are being carefully monitored by scientific bodies and interest groups, and they are making measurable improvements, sometimes huge improvements, in all but one…..carbon sequestration. This is not because it won’t happen, but because whilst the bog is in the restoration phase the amount of carbon sequestered is offset by methane emissions. This is a temporary problem, but takes about 10 years to resolve. ( for more info see the excellent presentation at courtesy of Dartmoor National park)

We have carbon targets that are time limited, so it is evident that anything that will take 10 years to start sequestering carbon needs to start now, not ten or twenty years from now, and equally anything that, if left, will release carbon in alarming quantities also needs to be dealt with now. We need to stop the rot and reverse the process, and there is no time to lose.

The good news is that all those private water companies with moorland catchments, and all those construction companies building on flood plains, and all those insurers still insuring flood risk areas have a commercial interest in doing this work. It just needs the right kick up the backside by government to make it happen.

So Boris, stop talking about the “Sunlit uplands” and start going to the bog!