AN area of peat bog neighbouring Astley is set to be saved thanks to funding to restore it.

Thanks to vital funding from Veolia Environmental Trust, the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside has been able to purchase land in the lowland peat bog region of Chat Moss, taking a step towards the Trust’s goal of creating a continuous ecological corridor in the area.

Situated just outside the village of Astley, the land is surrounded by the Astley and Bedford mosses, which are both SSSI designated (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and the acquisition of this land would be the final piece in the puzzle.

The land had been drained to be used for agriculture and the degraded, exposed peat soil is now emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

C02 emissions from damaged lowland peatlands equate to three per cent of UK annual fossil fuel emissions and in the region, 98 per cent of our lowland peat bogs have been destroyed.

Sarah Johnson, Head of Peatland Nature Recovery at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside said: “We are excited to be able to acquire this land thanks to the vital funding from Veolia Environmental Trust. The site is another piece in the Greater Manchester peatland puzzle and will help us create an ecological corridor for nature and wildlife to thrive.

“It will be especially important to our local population of Manchester argus butterflies that we were able to reintroduce to neighbouring Astley Moss SSSI, thanks to previous funding from Veolia Environmental Trust.”

After becoming increasingly difficult to farm, the land was under threat of being converted to lawn turf production.

Of all land uses on drained peatland, turf production is the most environmentally damaging, increasing the rate at which carbon is released and peat soil levels are depleted.

This made it ever more imperative that the land was secured by the Trust for restoration.

Now in the hands of the Wildlife Trust, work will now start to restore the landscape back to its natural state.

With over 20 years of peatland restoration experience, the Trust aims to restore the natural hydrology of the site, changing the area from drained agriculture to re-wetted bog.

Once the ground conditions are back to their natural boggy state, native bog vegetation will be reintroduced to help transition back to a natural peatland.

Caroline Schwaller MBE, Chair of the Veolia Environmental Trust said: “We’re delighted to be able to continue supporting the fantastic work of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust in protecting our planet’s precious peatlands. Not only will this project help reduce carbon emissions, but it will also provide a perfect habitat for biodiversity to flourish.

“Combating two of the most pressing challenges facing our planet; climate change and species loss, we’re proud to have donated just under £1 million in funding to the area and look forward to seeing the rewetting of this piece of the peatland puzzle!”

In 2020, the Trust successfully reintroduced the large heath butterfly back to Astley Moss, after it had been absent in the area for over 150 years. The return of the ‘Manchester Argus’ as it is locally known at the site is a positive sign that the biodiversity in the area can be bolstered. The newly purchased land will only benefit this population even more, and over time will hopefully open a corridor for these butterflies to spread further across the Chat Moss area.

The purchase of this land is another great step towards reconnecting these important areas of Chat Moss, bolstering the biodiversity in the region and reducing harmful carbon emissions.