From Mourning to Restoring our Mosslands

Little Woolden Moss bog pools

Greater Manchester Wetlands Trainee, Lorna, has been researching the history of Lancashire's wetlands for the last 10 years, mourning their loss. Now, she is using that passion and knowledge to restore mosslands in Greater Manchester thanks to funding from The Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

My name is Lorna Smithers and I am a Greater Manchester Wetlands Trainee on the Manchester Mosslands. I live in Penwortham, near Preston, in Central Lancashire and around ten years ago started researching the history of my local area and finding out how our wetlands and lakes, such as Martin Mere, were drained. This filled me with an indelible sense of mourning. I spoke out to the council against South Ribble’s last remnant of lowland raised level peat bog, Much Hoole Moss, being turned into a paint-balling site without reprieve. I recorded their histories, wrote them poems.

I volunteered with a number of community and conservation organisations throughout this period. In November 2019, realising the value of this work, and that I would never make a living as a writer, I gave up the supermarket job through which I was supporting myself and saving up, and started volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust full time as way into a career in conservation.

Much Hoole Moss

Much Hoole Moss

This led me to a conservation internship at Brockholes Nature Reserve. Through this I gained a temporary contract with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust planting on Little Woolden Moss and immediately fell in love with this place, which has endured great damage by peat extraction, stripping it of 8 metres of peat, back to the Ice Age. Only recently, in 2012, did The Trust buy the site, and since then extensive work has taken place to improve the hydrology and floral diversity to restore it to a fully functioning peat bog.

Here it is possible to view all the stages of restoration, from the bare peat in the east, to areas in the middle newly planted with cottongrasses, to areas in the west where pools are filled with Sphagnum cuspidatum and hummocks of Sphagnum species support cross-leaved heath and bog rosemary.

Bare peat at Little Woolden Moss

Bare peat at Little Woolden Moss

Gaining this traineeship has given me the opportunity to restore mosslands in Greater Manchester which, unlike my local mosses, have not been completely destroyed. Of the great macrotope of Chat Moss several remnants of its mesotopes remain - Little Woolden Moss, Cadishead Moss, Astley Moss, Rindle Moss. The Lancashire Peatlands Initiative is currently working to connect them together through a landscape scale management plan to allow unique peatland species to grow and prosper.

Sphagnum hummock at Cadishead Moss

Sphagnum hummock at Cadishead Moss

I have been a trainee for three months and so far I have learnt so much and the job has been so varied. I have gained new practical conservation skills such as mending bunds, moving pipes, building leaky dams, and translocating plants, and have progressed to leading volunteer work parties.

As my first project I planned the restoration of an area of fire damaged lowland wet heath, led the work parties, and set up a monitoring programme to ensure it was successful (this was made possible by the excellent training we had with Dr. Sarah Dalrymple from the University of Liverpool).

For my personal project I have been working in partnership with Prince’s Park Garden Centre, in Irlam, to learn how to grow the plants we plant out on site, thus gaining knowledge of the whole cycle. I am producing an introductory booklet to pass on to volunteers and future trainees and leading an AQA in Peatland Conservation and Horticulture for adults with learning disabilities.

Lorna with cottongrass she planted in March 2021

Lorna with cottongrass she planted in March 2021

I have also put my skills as a writer to use by creating a series of poems in the voice of a ghost wolf (the name of Little and Great Woolden derives from the Viking Vuluedene ‘Wolf Valley’) for New Moss Wood and researching and writing an article on the prehistoric archaeology of Chat Moss.

Challenges which lie ahead are writing my first funding bid and the management plan for Cadishead Moss. The greatest gift of this traineeship has been the capacity to move beyond mourning our wetlands to playing an active role in restoring them, for nature, for ourselves, for the future.

Lorna's traineeship has been funded by The Green Recovery Challenge Fund - a short-term competitive fund to kick-start environmental renewal whilst creating and retaining a range of jobs. Accessed through the Greater Manchester Environment Fund it supports environmental charities and their partners to deliver projects in England. 

Apply for funding Donate to a project