4 February 2022
On the last day of January, I started my work placement with RSPB Dove Stone. RSPB Dove Stone is a 40 square kilometre (4,000 ha) site, managed for the benefit of the habitats and wildlife, in partnership with the landowner, United Utilities. The site predominantly consists of upland peatland, an internationally important habitat, and is bordered by lowland moorland edge, small woodlands, streams, reservoirs, and farmland.
Much of the site is open access and there is a network of public footpaths (including the Pennine Way National Trail) used by hikers, fell runners, maintain bikers, wildlife enthusiasts and more. Occasionally there is unauthorised and damaging use of the site by offroad vehicle users.
One of the major focuses of RSPB Dove Stone is peatland restoration. The peatlands have been degraded for over a century by industrial pollution, burning, and the creation of artificial drainage channels. Since 2005, RSPB Dove Stone has been working to reverse this damage by revegetating and rewetting the peatland and improving its functionality. Healthy peatlands provide many important functions, including maintaining a rare ecosystem of flora and fauna, and providing ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and improved water quality.
The site boasts wildlife of interest including breeding dunlin and curlew, both red listed birds; short eared owl, which can be seen hunting during the day; peregrine falcon, the fastest moving animal in the world with a diving speed of 242mph, and water vole, once common across Britain but has experienced sharp and devastating declines nationwide in recent decades.
The site is protected under statutory designations including SSSI (Special Scientific Interest), SPA (Special Protection Area), and SAC (Special Area of Conservation) affording it protections for its habitats and wildlife. The site is also covered by a Drinking Water Safeguarding zone, meaning that management must actively address issues of water quality.
MEETING THE TEAM AND LEARNING HOW THE ORGANISATION WORKS
Considering Covid restrictions, my initial conversations with my new colleagues were done via Microsoft Teams.
I spoke with the Head Warden, Kate Hanley, who explained some of the many projects taking place on site. Some management and surveying projects are standard practice, but there are a few which are pioneering; they were one of the first sites to use sphagnum plug translocations. Others methods may even be controversial, such as using live willow stakes to stabilise peat and prevent slippage, with the downside being that willow trees are thirsty plants which can draw water out of the peat. For this reason, Natural England have restricted SSSI permission for the project to a small experimental site for now. The project is Funded by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund.
One thing I noticed as Kate explained the various projects to me, is just how many different funds are being used at one site. In fact, a large part of her role is writing and securing grants for conservation projects. The nature of charity-based work is that its financial income relies heavily on grant money to conduct projects. This is very different to my experience of working for ecological consultancies, who are financed by profit-based companies with large amounts of capital to invest.
A prominent issue with grant funded projects is that many important restoration projects require ongoing funding over very many years. This often isn’t appealing to grant providers who want novel and tangible results within a relatively short timeframe. This adds the additional challenge when securing project funding of also ensuring suitable funds are available to cover longer-term objectives. Some funds are restricted in their use, however some are flexible use, meaning the site can spend it how it sees fit.
There is a core team of paid RSPB staff and a large group of approximately 40 volunteers – considered the sites biggest asset – who collectively contribute thousands of hours a year, allowing the completion of projects that would otherwise be impossible without them. This can be a mutually beneficial relationship, the concept of which I will discuss in future blog posts.
I am already sold on the objectives RSPB Dove Stone is working towards but am learning that there are many challenges to overcome in order to achieve them.
- RSPB Dove Stone: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/dove-stone/
- Wildlife and Countryside Link (2020) Prevention is Better Than Cure: A Diagnosis on the State of UK invasive Species Biosecurity. Vauxhall: Wildlife and Countryside Link.
- SSSI: https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/SiteDetail.aspx?SiteCode=s1003028
- SPA: http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6145889668169728
- SAC: https://sac.jncc.gov.uk/site/UK0030280
- Water safeguard zones: https://www.data.gov.uk/dataset/6ac22521-2e77-4dc8-ba90-6bb55d2ea3b8/drinking-water-safeguard-zones-surface-water
- Willow stakes: https://gmenvfund.org/news/rspb-dove-stone-trial-innovative-new-technique-peatland-restoration
- Revegetation: https://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0027/87543/Bare-peat-revegetation-factsheet.pdf