A busy day on the moors

I got a phone call from Fiona yesterday asking me if I'd help with some research work being done on Black Hill by the University of Manchester on behalf of Moors For The Future (MFTF). Beth is doing the research and she's using a spectrometer to measure the light reflected from different types of vegetation over the course of the year. She's doing this so that subsequent aerial surveys can be analysed using the information. Areas of different vegetation can be identified on the aerial survey by looking for areas with the same absorption characteristics as found on the ground survey. The spectrometer is a ASD FieldSpec Pro supplied by NERC, one of the UK's research bodies. It allegedly portable - well, perhaps if you have a donkey it is, because as well as the spectrometer there are four lead-acid batteries, a laptop and a number of other bits and pieces. to be carried, so myself and David went out to help Beth - and poor David got the biggest lump to lug across the moor :-)

ASD spectrometer        ASD spectrometer

The readings can only be taken when there's no cloud obscuring the sun, hence Beth's heavenward gaze. Each plot has to have four readings taken, one on a white reference tile and three of the vegetation, from different positions to get an average reading. You can see the reference tile and the sensing head in the pictures above. There's a bundle of fibre optics that takes the light from the sensing head into the spectroscope on David's back, where the light is analysed and the results fed into the laptop that Beth is carrying. I had the difficult job of carrying a clipboard and writing stuff down :-)

A couple of hundred meters away from us there was another group of people who were also working on the MFTF project. The moors in the Dark Peak are an internationally important habitat, Blanket Bog. The peat was formed originally by Sphagnum Moss, but over the last hundred or so years, environmental degradation caused in part by the Industrial Revolution has taken its toll and much of the Sphagnum has disappeared, and there has been widespread erosion of the peat. MFTF have been re-vegetating the moors with heather, but Sphagnum is one of the really important species to re-establish because it is responsible for generating the peat in the first place, and locking up CO2 as a result. MFTF have contracted Micropropagation Services to prepare Sphagnum pellets so that they can be spread across the moor to effectively "inoculate" the ground surface with new Sphagnum.

Sphagnum pellets        Sphagnum pellets

The pellets are going to be spread from helicopter using an adapted agricultural sprayer, they were testing out the system and working out the snags in preparation for spreading the pellets on a wide scale. It took three years to get to the current stage, so there's an immense amount of effort going into this environmental programme. There are more details of the project on the Moors For The Future website.

Sphagnum spreading by helicopter

After heading back from Heyden Head to Holme Moss summit, David noticed what appeared to be smoke drifting across the Bleaklow plateau. We are in a period of high fire risk at the moment due to the recent dry weather, and we've had catastrophic fires on Bleaklow in the past, so David and I had to bail out and leave Beth on her own so that we could go check out the smoke. We drove round the other side of the Bleaklow plateau and up onto Snake Summit expecting to see smoke, but there was nothing visible. We headed off rapidly down the Pennine Way to Alport Low where we could get a clear view of where the smoke had apparently being coming from, but there was nothing to be seen from there either - we passed Terry on the way with a group he was out with, and he also hadn't seen anything. I managed to get hold of Mike on the radio, he was on Kinder and had seen the smoke as well, but by the time we got to Alport Low there was nothing to be seen. Most puzzling - the three of us had quite clearly seen smoke from Holme Moss, all I can think if was that it was a small accidental burn that someone had put out quickly.

We then headed back to Snake Summit where we met up with Peter and Bob, then headed back round to the north side of the plateau again to put up "high fire risk" signs at Crowden and Arnfield - kinda ironic really - before heading back to the briefing centre and then home.