Restored Border Mires bog brings floods of joy for wildlife

Rare mosses, dragonflies and wading birds will benefit
as they recolonise the wilderness north of Hadrian's Wall
Martin Wainwright, Wednesday 12 August 2009 14.15 BST

Rehabilitation of the Border Mires, an ancient peat bog, Kielder Forest, Northumberland. Photograph: Forestry Commission

The most sinister sounding of all Britain's scientifically treasured landscapes has been rescued two years ahead of schedule and restored to its natural state as a deep bog.

Famous as the retreat of the Mosstrooper outlaws who harried villages in Northumberland and the south of Scotland, the Border Mires have been reflooded in a £700,000 project after years as part of the country's strategic timber reserve.

Rare mosses, dragonflies and wading birds have started to recolonise the revived wilderness just north of Hadrian's Wall where soggy peat hags – waterlogged blocks of peat underground – go as deep as 15 metres. Special machinery, including a tractor with tyres 2.5 metres wide to prevent it sinking, have removed the last traces of Forestry Commission conifers.

The mires, formed in the great melt after the Ice Age, stretch between Kielder Water reservoir and Butterburn in Northumberland. With the trees gone, the lonely wasteland close to the former Blue Streak rocket-testing site at Spadeadam, looks much as it would have done to Roman legionaries serving their time on the Wall.

The restoration by the Forestry Commission, Northumberland national park, the county's wildlife trust and RAF Spadeadam, includes access along boardwalks to previously unreachable parts of the mires. The wildlife is spectacular and internationally important; Britain has 13% of the world's remaining blanket bog and the mires are among the deepest.

Neville Geddes, from the Forestry Commission in Northumberland, said at an opening ceremony yesterday: "We get dazzled by the wonders of the rain forest and marvellous ancient woodlands. Bogs may lack the same immediate visual impact, but in many ways they are an even more endangered and fragile habitat."

The restoration has taken nearly four decades of "reverse landscaping", including the blocking of more than 15 miles of drains to allow water to seep back. The area was dried out after the first world war as part of a drive to renew timber supplies, a policy only reversed in 1970.

Mike Sutcliffe of Natural England's Northumberland staff, said that bog mosses had recolonised unexpectedly quickly, and the restored mires were already one of the North of England's richest dragonfly habitats. The 67 separate bogs which form the mires store more carbon that all the trees in the 155,000 acres of Kielder forest, and hold more liquid than Kielder Water, which is Europe's largest man-made lake.

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

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