European Natura 2000 Award
Selecting the winner of the Conservation category was extremely challenging given the high number of good quality applications submitted. As he presented the Award, jury member and Director General for Environment, Daniel Calleja Crespo, stressed, “This application stood out because it encompassed all the elements we were looking for: the partnership between different stakeholders - in this case a water company and an NGO; the element of restoring biodiversity and the element of replicability. Crucial however was the strong commitment to carrying out and promoting conservation”.
The blanket bogs of the South Pennines have been degraded by centuries of atmospheric pollution from the nearby industrial cities and towns, leading to a complete loss of peat-building Sphagnum mosses and widespread peat erosion. Air quality has improved since the 1980s and Sphagnum is beginning to recover around the bog margins, but the extensive eroded plateaus have needed enormous restoration efforts to re-vegetate bare peat, begin the process of raising water tables, and move toward a Sphagnum-rich vegetation community once again.
At Dove Stone, the RSPB, in partnership with the landowner United Utilities, is delivering an ambitious programme of restoration work, with the aim of restoring biodiversity and improving water quality on this important Natura 2000 site. Local volunteers are integral to this work and have been a key part of conservation delivery. Restoration began in 2008, and since 2010 the RSPB has had a nature reserve partnership across the 4 000 ha site, of which 2 500 ha are the priority habitat, blanket bog.
Following the successful re-vegetation of bare peat through United Utilities' Sustainable Catchment Management Programme, over 4 000 stone gully blocks have been placed in larger gullies, and over 4 500 heather bales have been used to raise water tables. Trials of Sphagnum restoration have led to successful methods of harvesting from donor sites and planting more than 100 ha; a transformation is underway.
Bird monitoring has shown the results of the restoration work: Golden Plover and Curlew have improved, and Dunlin have increased from an estimated 15 pairs in 2010 to 43 pairs in 2015. This is compelling evidence that restoration works.
Jonathan Bird from the RSPB said that he feels humbled accepting the prize on behalf of a network of stakeholders and volunteers all of whose actions had been essential for delivering the high quality results. Involving the local community had been essential, especially in a remote, difficult to reach area, where many of the project actions have to be carried out in difficult conditions and bad weather.
Edward Lawrence from United Utilities added that the partners together could achieve more and attract more support acting together than if they acted alone. Their activities had helped to deliver cheaper drinking water as well as great results for biodiversity.