Lowland raised bogs are peatland ecosystems which develop primarily, but not exclusively, in lowland areas such as the head of estuaries, along river flood-plains and in topographic depressions. In such locations drainage may be impeded by a high groundwater table, or by low permeability substrata such as estuarine, glacial or lacustrine clays. The resultant waterlogging provides anaerobic conditions which slow down the decomposition of plant material which in turn leads to an accumulation of peat. Continued accrual of peat elevates the bog surface above regional groundwater levels to form a gently-curving dome from which the term 'raised' bog is derived. The thickness of the peat mantle varies considerably but can exceed 12 metres.
In the UK lowland raised bogs are a particular feature of cool, rather humid regions such as the north-west lowlands of England, the central and north-east lowlands of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but remnants also occur in some southern and eastern localities, for example Somerset, South Yorkshire and Fenland.
Lowland raised bogs may develop from a preceding phase of fen via successional processes or, if the climate is sufficiently wet, by peat formation directly onto a bare substrate, a process known as 'paludification'. Accumulation of peat separates the bog surface from the influence of groundwater, so that it becomes irrigated exclusively by precipitation. This type of ecosystem is known as an 'ombrotrophic' (or 'rain-fed') bog. Consequently, the surface of a 'natural' lowland raised bog is typically waterlogged, acidic and deficient in plant nutrients. This gives rise to a distinctive suite of vegetation types, which although low in overall diversity, support specialised plant assemblages dominated by a colourful range of mosses of the genus Sphagnum
, (baltic bog-moss Sphagnum balticum
, Skye bog-moss Sphagnum skyense
) as well as vascular plants adapted to waterlogged conditions such as the cotton grasses Eriophorum
spp. Lowland raised bogs also support rarer plants such as the bog mosses Sphagnum pulchrum
and Sphagnum imbricatum
as well as a number of higher plants which have become increasingly scarce in the lowlands including bog rosemary Andromeda polifolia
, great sundew Drosera anglica
and cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos
The raised bog surface may support a patterned mosaic of pools, hummocks and lawns, a microtopography created in part by the growth of the plants themselves. This provides a range of water regimes which support different species assemblages. Sphagnum mosses are the principal peat forming species on natural UK lowland raised peat bogs, and their dominance in the living vegetation layer gives a bog its characteristically 'spongy' surface. The ability of this layer to store water is thought to be important in keeping the bog surface wet during the summer.
A number of plant communities defined by the National Vegetation Classification can be found on raised bogs. Plant communities that are typical of natural raised bogs include the bog pool communities M1 to M3 and M18 Erica tetralix - Sphagnum papillosum raised and blanket mire. In addition a number of communities, including M15 Scirpus cespitosus - Erica tetralix wet heath, M19 Calluna vulgaris - Eriophorum vaginatum blanket mire, M20 Eriophorum vaginatum blanket and raised mire, M25 Molinia caerulea - Potentilla erecta mire and W4 Betula pubescens - Molinia caerulea woodland, can be found on raised bogs which have been subject to some disturbance such as drainage or peat-cutting.
Lowland raised bogs also support a distinctive range of animals including a variety of breeding waders and wildfowl and invertebrates. Rare and localised invertebrates such as the large heath butterfly Coenonympha tullia,
the bog bush cricket Metrioptera brachyptera
, and mire pill beetle Curimopsis nigrita
are found on some lowland raised bog sites.
Peat accumulation preserves a unique and irreplaceable record of plant and animal remains and some atmospheric deposits from which it is possible to assess historical patterns of vegetation and climate change and human land-use.
As elsewhere across north-west Europe there has been a dramatic decline in the area of lowland raised bog habitat since around the start of the nineteenth century. The area of lowland raised bog in the UK retaining a largely undisturbed surface is estimated to have diminished by around 94% from an original c95,000 ha to c6,000 ha at the present day (England 37,500 ha reduced to 500 ha, Scotland 28,000 ha to 2,500 ha, Wales 4,000 ha to 800 ha, Northern Ireland 25,000 ha to 2,000 ha). Historically, the greatest decline has occurred through agricultural intensification, afforestation, and commercial peat extraction. Future decline is most likely to be the result of the gradual desiccation of bogs damaged by a range of drainage activities and/or a general lowering of groundwater tables.
Links with other action plans
Lowland raised peat bogs are an important habitat for a number of priority species covered by species action plans, including Baltic bog moss Sphagnum balticum
and the mire pill beetle Curimopsis nigrita
. Their requirements should also be taken into account during the implementation of this plan.
Statutory site designationplays an important part in the conservation of this habitat type. In 1994 the JNCC published revised Guidelines for the selection of raised and blanket bog SSSIs. Notification as SSSIs or ASSIs provides protection for around 120 lowland raised bogs. Many of the most important areas are managed by the statutory conservation agencies through agreements with site owners. Some 17 UK lowland raised bogs are managed as NNRs by the statutory nature conservation agencies. Nonetheless, there are certain key bogs where commercial peat extraction continues despite statutory notification.
Annex 1 of the EC Habitats Directive includes two lowland raised bog habitats. The active raised bog category is afforded priority habitat status and includes areas which still support a significant area of vegetation that is normally peat forming, as well as those where active formation is temporarily at a standstill, such as after fire or during a natural climatic cycle. Degraded raised bogs are regarded as areas where there has been widespread disruption to the hydrology of the peat body, leading to pronounced surface desiccation or peat wastage and the loss of species or changes to the composition of species assemblages. The UK Government has proposed 24 active and 2 degraded raised bog sites as Special Areas of Conservation under the terms of the Directive. A number of areas and their supporting interest features are already covered by the Special Protection Area designation, under the EC Birds Directive, or as Ramsar sites under the Ramsar Convention. The UK Government has also undertaken to implement the actions described in the Recommendations and Resolutions (particularly Recommendation 6.1. Conservation of Peatlands) and in the five-year Strategic Plan which emerged from the 6th Ramsar Conference of Parties. Many of these have direct or indirect value for lowland raised bogs and there is a plan to identify under-represented Ramsar sites and inparticular peatlands. The development of a forward programme of targets for designation will be carried out, and reviewed annually, once the list is agreed.
Other important lowland raised bogs receive additional site protection and management. They form part of a network of 28 Wildlife Trust Reserves, and the RSPB is restoring damaged raised bogs at two of its nature reserves. Local Nature Reserves, Wildlife Sites (also known as Sites of Biological Importance and Biological Heritage Sites) are designations afforded to sites of local interest by local planning authorities. Forest Service in Northern Ireland has also designated some sites as Forest Nature Reserves.
Management, research and guidance
There is a wealth of information available on the lowland raised bog resource. In 1996 SNH (on behalf of the GB statutory conservation agencies) published a report An inventory of lowland raised bogs in Great Britain. The inventory is maintained by SNH and provides an assessment of the condition and conservation of lowland raised peat bog sites and an estimate of the area of land covered by this habitat. It also records the status of sites in terms of SSSI or NNR designations. Two of the main condition classes recognised by the inventory, primary and secondary, have been used in formulating the biological targets in this plan. Primary raised bogs present an unbroken profile of peat, undisturbed by peat cutting or agricultural tillage, and range from bogs supporting natural or near-natural vegetation to bogs exhibiting varying degrees of degradation as a consequence of fire, drainage and scrub encroachment. Secondary bogs are those which have been subject to partial peat removal, usually through peat cutting for fuel or horticultural usage. The third main condition class of archaic bog includes land which has been claimed for agricultural cropping or built development.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust, with EU Life funding for a three-year project, accrued survey data for many of Scotland's lowland raised bogs.
Management/rehabilitation plans exist for all NNRs and the statutory conservation agencies and The Wildlife Trusts also maintain an active programme of conservation management on NNRs and on other SSSI/ASSI land where management agreements have been achieved.
Peatland Policy Statements are available or in preparation for EHS, SNH and NE. Common objectives include opposition to exploitation of lowland raised bogs of 'conservation importance', encouragement for the use of peat alternatives in horticulture, increased public awareness, and establishment of favourable management regimes through greater co-operation with owners/occupiers and other partners in the voluntary and private sectors.
The NE Lowland Peatland Programme, launched in 1992, focused particular attention on the conservation of lowland raised bogs in England. Outcomes of this programme have included acquisition and after-use agreement on land worked by a major peat cutting company, declaration of three large raised bog NNRs, resource assessment of English lowland raised bogs and prioritisation of sites for conservation and rehabilitation, production of rehabilitation management plans for priority sites, a review of monitoring and development of a computer database for data storage and interrogation. To date 23 costed site rehabilitation plans have been produced and a programme ofvegetation control andhydrological recovery work is now in progress at15 sites throughout England.
The new all-Wales Agri-environment Scheme (Tir Gofal) becomes operational in 1999 and incorporates specific environmental objectives and prescriptions for the management of lowland raised bogs. In Scotland, payments are available under the Countryside Premium Scheme for the enhancement of raised bog.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust, as part of their EU Life funded project, held an international Peatland Convention in 1995 the proceedings of which (Conserving Peatlands)were published in 1997. The project also published Conserving Bogs: The Management Handbook, a best-practice guide on management and rehabilitation of lowland raised bogs.
In 1996 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution published its nineteenth report in which it made over 90 recommendations on soil protection, management and policy. Many of these recommendations were highly relevant to peatlands, directly and indirectly, and 10 recommendations related specifically to peatlands. In its response to the recommendations the UK Government accepted the need for strict protection of lowland raised bogs and re-stated its policy in relation to compensation arrangements for permissions which are likely to have a significant effect on European sites.
DETR has recently reconvened its Peat Working Group to consider the current position on peat extraction and the uses of alternatives. A key outcome affecting current action was the publication of revised Planning Policy (PPG9 and PPG16) and Mineral Planning (MPG13) Guidance notes. These advocate careful consideration for the protection of lowland raised peat bog habitat and the palaeoecological archive, and the conservation after-use of peat extraction sites. They set targets for increased usage of peat alternatives. DoE guidelines for Restoration of Damaged Peatlands were published in 1995. Local Authorities also have a statutory duty under the 1995 Environment Act (Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 in Scotland) to update operational controls and after-use plans on old permissions to benefit nature conservation with guidance from MPG13 or Scottish Office Circular 34/1996). Compensation is only required where there are restrictions on working rights. Conflicts over compensation only arise where the Mineral Planning Authority wishes to revoke a permission or impose more restrictive conditions. However, in practice LAs are unlikely to be able to afford compensation claims from land owners and so changes to peat extraction conditions have been limited to those not invoking compensation liability.
The Forestry Commission has prepared a policy Guideline Note (in press) on forestry and bogs whichsignals a presumption against new planting on active raised bog and degraded raised bog capable of restoration. It also describes the criteria which the FC will use to consider supporting the restoration of lowland raised bog from existing woodlands. In Northern Ireland, the 1993 environmental policy statement by Forest Service (DANI) provides a presumption against afforestation ofundisturbed raised bog and cut-over raised bog capable of natural regeneration.
Drainage Authorities (including EA, IDBs and LAs) are preparing Water Level Management Plans for sites, identified by NE and CCW, which incorporate lowland raised bog SSSIs, as encouraged by government guidelines.
Major restoration projects are underway at the two largest Welsh raised bog sites, Cors Fochno and Cors Caron, and at Fenns and Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses which straddle the Wales - England border. CCW's Life sponsored demonstration project to link monitoring protocols to habitat management objectives on candidate SACs has included case studies of the first two sites.
Visitor facilities, including boardwalks, paths, leaflets and education packs for schools, exist for some lowland raised bog sites such as Peatlands Parkin Northern Ireland, Cors Caron and Cors Fochno (Wales) and Thorne Moors in South Yorkshire. Guided tours are also occasionally given at these and other lowland raised bog NNRs. Statutory agencies also provide an advisory and inquiries service to the public.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Review and modify livestock support mechanisms in the Less Favourable Areas (LFAs) through further lobbying for reform of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to promote sustainable agricultural management of lowland raised bog. Promote a more integrated approach to environmental, agricultural and socio-economic policy through CAP reform. Continue to reduce overgrazing by implementing the environmental cross-compliance conditions. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, EHS, NE, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH)
Reviews of Policy Planning Guidance (Scotland and Wales) and Planning Policy Statements (Northern Ireland) should take account of experiences in producing and implementing guidance in England, especially Planning and Policy Guidance (PPG9 and PPG16) and Mineral Planning Guidance (MPG13). Consistent UK-wide conservation measures for lowland raised bogs should be sought. (ACTION: DETR, DoE(NI), LAs, SE)
Review by 2003 the effectiveness of existing countryside and agri-environment measures and site management agreements and, where necessary, take opportunities to modify these by 2005 to improve, and create the conditions necessary for, the appropriate management of lowland raised bogs. In many instances this will require sympathetic management of adjacent land. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EHS, NE, FC, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH)
Initiate the development of Water Level Management Plans in Scotland by 2002, building on experiences gained in England and Wales (ACTION: SE, SEPA, SNH)
Implement the policies in the (1993) DANI environmental policy statement and the FC Guideline Note (para 3.2.9) on bogs. Develop further guidance on restoration on a regional basis, where this is necessary to support policy delivery and help target fiscal incentives. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, EHS, NE, FC, SE, SNH)
Ensure the importance of lowland raised bogs is recognised and site protection policies are included in Local Plans, Structure Plans, Mineral Strategies, Indicative Forest Strategies, and other strategic land-use plans. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, FC, LAs, LECs, NAW, SE, SNH)
Produce regional guidelines on the requirements for lowland raised bog conservation, including issues of regional land use and drainage, in a wider landscape context. Prepare and agree these through a cross-sectoral steering group by 2005. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, FC, JNCC, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH)
Review and where necessary amend or develop policies on the consumption of peat by 2002, with the aim of achieving a reduction in peat consumption in all sectors and for all purposes. A minimum of 40% of total market requirements to be based on non-peat materials by 2005. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, FC, LAs, LECs, NAW, SE, SNH)
Where suitable alternatives exist, consumptive use of peat by central and local government and statutory agencies, including contracted work, should cease by 2003. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, FC, LAs, LECs, NAW, SE, SNH)
Consider introducing fiscal measures to benefit peat alternatives. (ACTION: DETR, Treasury)
Encourage community composting or anaerobic digestion facilities and promote use of these and other products as alternatives to peat. (ACTION: DANI, DETR, LAs, NAW, SE)
By 2002 review and consider common land legislation to ensure appropriate management of lowland raised bog in England and Wales. (ACTION:NE CCW, DETR, NE, MAFF, NAW)
Assess existing peat extraction operations affecting SSSIs/ASSIs by 2001 to: identify the effects of extraction on each bog; identify priority cases for action; determine the key obstacles to achieving nature conservation management; and, taking account of the financial implications, to bring forward proposals to secure the long-term nature conservation value. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, FC, LAs, NAW, SE, SNH)
Site safeguard and management
By 2000 determine the specific condition classes relating to each of these targets and, using these, establish the areas of lowland raised bog which will be targeted for restoration work; then clarify and begin measures to secure favourable management. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EHS, NE, FC, LAs, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH).
Seek to ensure all lowland raised bogs in the UK meeting the JNCC guidelines for selection as SSSIs/ASSIs are notified by 2004. Through periodic reviews ensure that the full natural and geographic range is maintained. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Complete the current programmes for designation of SPA, Ramsar and SACs for lowland raised bog by 2004. (ACTION: CCW, DETR, EHS, NE, NAW, SE, SNH)
Review the coverage of the existing programme of Water Level Management Plans to ensure that all SSSIs are covered and to determine whether it should be extended to non-SSSIs and to other parts of the UK. Ensure that condition objectives for lowland raised peat bogs are integrated into Water Level Management Plans by 2006. (ACTION: ADA, CCW, DANI, EA, EHS, NE, FC, LAs, SE, SEPA, SNH)
Complete conservation management plans, and where appropriate rehabilitation plans, to develop and promote the use of long-term management with the owners of lowland raised bog and adjoining land, aimed at creating or maintaining favourable condition (appropriate water levels and cover of bog species, especially Sphagnum spp.) on all SSSIs/ASSIs by 2004. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EHS, NE, FC, LAs, NAW, SE, SNH)
Establish by 2005 management plans for all existing and future extraction consents to encourage appropriate conservation after-use options. Ideally, this would lead to the re-establishment of lowland raised peat bog vegetation (as first priority), or other wetland ecosystems. (ACTION: CCW, DETR, DoE (NI), EA, NE, EHS, LAs, SE, SNH)
Ensure application of FC and DANI policies (5.1.5) to sites managed by FC and DANI Forest Service through the further development and implementation of FC’s Endangered Habitat Action Plans and Design Plans for individual forests. (ACTION: DANI, FC)
Contribute to the implementation of relevant action plans for rare and declining species associated with lowland raised bogs in conjunction with the appropriate species steering groups. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH).
Develop and promote training on the conservation, management and rehabilitation of lowland raised bogs, targeting these at representatives from all key agencies, landowners and voluntary bodies. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Encourage and provide advice on the development and marketing of peat alternatives to reduce amateur and professional demand for peat-based horticultural products, to achieve the long-term safeguard of peatlands. (ACTION: DANI, DETR, DoE(NI), NAW, SE)
Encourage applications from potential partners to obtain funding to bring areas of lowland raised bog into favourable management. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Develop links with European and international organisations and programmes to promote the exchange of information and experience in research, management techniques, and conservation strategies. (ACTION: DETR, JNCC)
Seek to influence EC funding policy in order to discourage the afforestation of lowland raised mires and encourage the development of restoration programmes throughout the EU. (ACTION: DETR)
Continue to promote within the EU, through schemes such as eco-labelling, an understanding of the threat of peat extraction to mid- and long-term conservation of lowland raised bogs and encourage, with targets, the development and use of peat alternatives in both amateur and professional markets. (ACTION: DETR, FCO)
Research and monitoring
Develop methods for defining and assessing the condition of lowland raised bogs and the effectiveness of conservation management. Seek to incorporate these into site management plans by 2004. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EHS, NE, FC, SNH)
Undertake NVC and related survey work to ensure that any remaining gaps in knowledge about the character of the remaining primary near-natural resource are filled. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Encourage the dissemination and use of ongoing and past research results, and commission further research where necessary, to improve understanding of the ecology of lowland raised mires. Key research topics will include vegetation dynamics and long-term vegetation change, hydrology (particularly inter-relations with regional water tables), palaeoecology and the ecology and management requirements of invertebrate communities and species. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EA, EHS, NE, SEPA, SNH)
Contribute information to the National Biodiversity Network WWW-based catalogue of survey information as a means of improving access to current information on UK lowland raised bogs. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, EHS, NE, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH)
Review research requirements on the effects of atmospheric nutrient deposition and climate change on lowland raised bog and promote research needs accordingly. (ACTION: CCW, DETR, DoE(NI), EHS, NE, JNCC, NAW, SE, SNH)
Undertake and promote research and development of sustainable alternatives to peat to speed up reduction of peat used in both amateur and professional markets. Aim for a minimum of 40% of total market requirements to be peat-free by 2005 and 90% by 2010. Monitor and review take-up and if feasible accelerate the programme of reduction. (ACTION: DANI, DETR, NAW, SE)
Develop and implement appropriate surveillance and monitoring programmes to assess progress towards achieving action plan targets. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, EHS, NE, JNCC, MAFF, NAW, SE, SNH)
Communications and publicity
Produce simple, attractive information packages particularly aimed at capturing the interest and co-operation of site owners and managers towards favourable management. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, FC, SNH)
Develop and promote a suite of demonstration sites across the UK to reflect the range of ecological variation and applied management techniques. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, FC, SNH)
Encourage the establishment of a network of improved visitor facilities at significant lowland raised bog sites in UK by 2010 as a means of achieving increased public awareness and appreciation of lowland raised bogs. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Produce a simple and attractive booklet for the public and schools which explains the intricacies and conservation importance of lowland raised bogs. (ACTION: CCW, EHS, NE, SNH)
Generate ongoing information and publicity to encourage amateur and professional peat users to adopt alternatives, highlighting the threat to peatland conservation of continued peat use. (ACTION: CCW, DANI, DETR, EHS, NE, MAFF, NAW, SE)
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