A PIONEERING research project in North Yorkshire is testing whether drones could cut the cost of peatland restoration in the county.

Swinton Estate near Ripon, a member of the Moorland Association, is taking part in a 10-year study in partnership with Yorkshire Water, Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP) and the University of Manchester to assess the impact of sphagnum mosses on habitat restoration.

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York Press: The Swinton Estate near Ripon is a wildlife havenThe Swinton Estate near Ripon is a wildlife haven

The project is a detailed assessment of the reintroduction of sphagnum mosses in peatland habitats, to help prevent carbon emissions and improve water storage in the soil. Sphagnum mosses are important peat-forming plants, helping to contribute to long-term carbon sequestration in bog habitats.

The use of drones could be a game changer because peatland restoration is currently very expensive and labour intensive.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister of Swinton Estate, chair of the Moorland Association, said: “We are keen to play our part in peatland restoration to help improve soil hydrology and to ensure that carbon stays locked up in the ground as much as possible. Reintroducing sphagnum mosses isn’t always successful and ongoing monitoring is very expensive. If drones can bring down the cost of peatland restoration that is a win-win for the environment, for land managers and for the public purse.”

York Press: Mark Cunliffe-ListerMark Cunliffe-Lister (Image: Archant)

Rosie Snowden, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s peat programme manager, said: “We are already using drones to capture high-resolution topographic and infra-red images. If we can find a way to extract data like sphagnum growth, vegetation structure and species, this could replace ongoing ground-based monitoring by researchers and reduce the cost of such projects across the Great North Bog.”

Andrew Walker, catchment strategy manager for Yorkshire Water said: “Yorkshire Water has been working closely with the Moorland Association for over a decade to understand and promote the importance healthy blanket bogs can play in mitigating the impacts of variable weather patterns for water quality and supply. Healthy peatlands can deliver other benefits to society and the environment, not least attenuating flooding downstream. We are grateful that the Swinton Estate has allowed us to restore and enhance these internationally important habitats, which are sources of drinking water for Wensleydale and Harrogate. Being able to remotely monitor how effective – or not – interventions have been will build on evidence and confidence that continued investment from a ranges of sources, is sound.”

York Press: Swinton Estate is taking part in the ten year peatland restoration projectSwinton Estate is taking part in the ten year peatland restoration project (Image: Supplied)

The research, which began in August 2017, seeks to understand the impact of reintroducing sphagnum to achieve environmental benefits such as improving water storage in the soil and preventing emissions of greenhouse gases.

YPP hopes to also evaluate whether drones could be used for ongoing monitoring of any sphagnum which has been planted, instead of requiring people to undertake this work.

York Press: One of the drones in operationOne of the drones in operation (Image: Supplied)

The study site is located on Masham-Colsterdale Moor on Swinton Estate, in Nidderdale National Landscape in North Yorkshire. The land is managed for grouse shooting and is also used for sheep grazing.

In total 60 plots of ground have been studied in detail by the research team, with varying peat depths of between 30cm and 190cm.

York Press: The project is set to run for ten yearsThe project is set to run for ten years (Image: Supplied)