They’re decomposing composers ecosystems.  There’s less of them every year.   Monty Python

Some of my studies are revealing new information about certain peatland habitats: read on! These are wet environments where over thousands of years, decomposing vegetation has formed peat layers which, fortunately for us, store carbon. Here is a useful global perspective of peatlands, authored by Susan Page (University of Leicester) and Andy Baird (University of Leeds), published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Indeed the IUCN regards peatlands as one of the most important ecosystems in the world for carbon storage. Those in the UK are particularly extensive and valuable. Indeed here we can see the major blanket bog areas in the UK It is encouraging to consider how much we have. However… surprisingly these peatland areas are often nutrient poor, with low biodiversity.  Some peatland ecosystems have suffered extensive degradation from air pollution, afforestation and peat extraction.   Those in the Peak District, northern England, particularly so.  

Bare peat erosion on Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, UK

Across Europe substantial funds have been invested in peatland restoration .

The UK has the highest spend on peatland restoration in Europe. 
Source: Andersen, R., Farrell, C., Graf, M. Muller, F.,Calvar, E., Frankard, P., Caporn, S. & Anderson, P. (2017). An overview of the progress and challenges of peatland restoration in Western Europe. Restoration Ecology 25(2):271-282 doi: 10.1111/rec.12415

Using the Peak District as case study, the following excellent book presents a comprehensive assessment of peatland geology, hydrology, fauna and flora, adverse anthropogenic influences and habitat restoration.

Restoration efforts involve the wonder-plant sphagnum to help maintain the water table and assist the recovery of other vegetation.

Sphagnum holds water, enables other plants to grow on it, and is very pretty

Some restoration efforts are amazing and yet relatively recent. And so there are few studies which describe their effects upon wildlife. However of note, my research in the Peak District has revealed distinct differences in how the resident mountain hares have been using different peatland habitats. 

Stay tuned for imminent news…

Peatland mapping from aerial photos

Often these peatland habitats occur as a mosaic of vegetation communities: mires, blanket bogs, heaths.  Mapping these areas is a continual challenge.  For my ecological niche modelling, I made a valiant attempt to categorise these with a supervised classification algorithm of aerial images.  Applying five vegetation classes, this achieved 82% accuracy. 

On the left you see the original aerial photograph at 5 meter pixel size.  In the centre is the supervised classification of the same.  Heather burn patches are clearly identified along with the other vegetation types.  On the right is the same supervised classification, now aggregated to 100 meter i.e. 1 hectare pixel size, a potentially more suitable scale for analysis.   This supervised classification of upland peatlands, is used in Bedson, CPE, Devenish, C., Symeonakis, E., Mallon, D., Reid, N., Harris, W.E. & Preziosi, R.  (2021). Splitting hares: Current and future ecological niches predicted as distinctly different for two congeneric lagomorphs.  Acta Oecologica.

Extreme vegetation quadrat-ing

To better understand the peatland ecosystem, during 2017 to 2018 I spent 26 days conducting vegetation plot surveys on Peak District uplands.   This followed the Moors for the Future method of recording % cover and height of principal species as well as topographical characteristics. Recently this material was taken up by Natural England, who are developing their own new bog habitat maps, my data enabled a substantial to their classification accuracy. 

Example vegetation quadrat from Bleaklow, Derbyshire UK 2018