A NEW technique is being used to restore precious peatlands in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

More than 150 bags of sponge-like bog moss have been spread alongside water channels, directly on to bare peat.

The Sphagnum moss will soak up excess water, retain it during drier months, and grow and expand to cover nearby areas of damaged peat.

The project, which began last year, will see more than 18 hectares of peat – about the size of nine football pitches – become re-vegetated and eventually grow into a piece of fully-functioning blanket bog.

The North Pennines has the largest expanse of peatland in England, and more than 3,000 hectares of it needs restoring.

The brightly-coloured moss was collected from a Forestry Commission site in Northumberland and taken to the project site, the army training area at Warcop, in Cumbria.

Alistair Lockett, conservation assistant at the North Pennines AONB Partnership, collected and redistributed the Sphagnum.

“Healthy peatlands are massively important to the environment,” he said.

“To some, it seems like a fairly unappealing landscape, and I don’t think that many people understand the role it plays in all our lives. We always say the North Pennines peatland is our rainforest – maybe not as lush, but just as significant.”

He explained: “Healthy peatlands lock up carbon, reduce water colour, reduce flooding and even conserve archaeology.”

Mr Lockett said the AONB Partnership worked closely with several organisations and landowners.

“Without their co-operation and input, we wouldn’t be able to restore the peatlands of the North Pennines,” he said. The project is due to be completed in 2023, but there are already signs that using Sphagnum moss, combined with other AONB restoration techniques, are increasing and promoting the growth of new bog vegetation.

Mr Lockett added: “We have a lot to do, but we’ve already made good progress and I’m confident that this fairly new approach to peatland restoration will do the job.”