Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Lancashire Peat Partnership - Working together to bring bog asphodel back

Written by Dom Hartley (Forest of Bowland National Landscape - Peatlands Officer)

On the 8
th of November 2023, members of Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Sphagnum Squad’, Andy Osborne and Tony Rogers, teamed up with Dom Hartley (Forest of Bowland National Landscape Peatland Officer) on a pioneering plant translocation project, the first of its kind for the Lancashire Peat Partnership.

Over many years Lancashire Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers have been hard at work undertaking restoration work on a number of lowland peatlands across Chat Moss in Greater Manchester. These were in varying states of poor condition due to years of mismanagement by previous owners. 10 years on from works beginning at one of these sites, which is remaining unnamed to protect the sensitive vegetation at the site, it has been transformed; from bare and actively eroding, to holding water and covered with common cottongrass and sphagnum moss.

Given the much-improved habitat conditions the Sphagnum Squad have turned their attention to reintroducing even more specialised bog vegetation, starting with Bog asphodel.

Bog asphodel favours wet, acidic and low-nutrient conditions, meaning that it can really flourish across blanket bogs in good condition. Across such sites in the Forest of Bowland, Bog asphodel provides a stark contrast to the usual moorland colour palette when it flowers between June and September drawing both the eye and the pollinators.

Bog asphodel flourishes in some pockets of the Bowland Fells, July 2022. Photo Dom Hartley.

The translocation of Bog asphodel is not something that volunteers at LWT or the Forest of Bowland National Landscape had been involved with before and it was therefore important to involve another key member of the Lancashire Peat Partnership – the Natural England area team. Their expertise was really helpful in making sure that the harvest at the donor site in Bowland was done in a bio-secure and sustainable fashion, meaning that the harvest of the donor plants has not negatively impacted the site in any way.

Following the securing of permissions from Natural England and the landowner, United Utilities, Andy, Tony and Dom ventured off into the middle of the Bowland Fells on a surprisingly dry and bright November morning. After 30 minutes of driving, they set off on foot to the donor site with plastic containers and small spades. The donor site is a particularly wet and acidic bit of bog, approximately 1.8ha in size, where Bog asphodel thrives (with up to 30 plants per square metre in places).

Bog asphodel at the donor site in the Forest of Bowland. Outside the flowering season, Bog asphodel still stands out on the moor with its yellow-orange leaves. Photo Dom Hartley

Nutrient levels and pH readings were taken prior to harvesting so that the plants can be reintroduced to areas on the donor site with similar readings; this will hopefully increase the chances of the donor plants establishing in their new location and succeeding in the future. Plants were harvested from across the donor site to minimise any impacts on the habitat.

Shallow incisions were made with the spades, 10-15cm deep, around the target plants so that the rhizome of the Bog asphodel could also be retrieved intact.

Tony displays a spade's-worth of Bog asphodel, with rhizome intact. Photo Andy Osborne.

This process was repeated across the donor site, with donor plants secured in plastic containers which would support waterlogged conditions for their safe transportation from Bowland down to Chat Moss.

Expert packing - the containers and Bog Asphodel secured for transport. Photo Andy Osborne.

Within three hours of harvest, the Sphagnum Squad were down at the donor site to get the plants into the ground – hopefully, this quick turnaround will benefit the plants and boost the success rates of the translocation.

Bog asphodel ready for planting at Chat Moss. Photo Andy Osborne

Bog asphodel re-planted, Tony records the location and conditions so that ongoing monitoring can be undertaken. Photo Andy Osborne

Nutrient levels and pH are tested at Chat Moss. Photo Tony Rogers.

The Bog asphodel has been re-planted across Chat Moss, under a variety of conditions. The plants and the surrounding conditions will be carefully monitored; whilst we're hopeful that the translocation will have a 100 per cent success rate, if some plants fail it is important for us to be able to try to understand why.

Pete Wilson, Catchment Partnership Officer for United Utilities, landowner at the donor site commented; "It's brilliant to see the constituent parts of the Lancashire Peat Partnership working together in this way. I'm happy to have facilitated the translocation of Bog asphodel from one of our Bowland sites to Chat Moss. This is a real win for all involved as we have an abundance of Bog asphodel across the Bowland estate and the relatively small number of plants we've been able to donate to the ongoing restoration efforts at Chat Moss will hopefully further the outstanding habitat recovery we've seen there over the last decade".


Thursday, July 28, 2022

Roman Road Excavation, Blog Diary - July 2022

 Days 8 & 9: Community Groups visits

Now that the bulk of the excavation work is complete, we opened up the site to visitors: either volunteers who had participated earlier, or organised groups linked to PHLP.

On Wednesday the 72 Seasons project arranged a visit.  This is a group of 15 women and children from the DEEN centre in Brierfield who have been participating in a 12 week 'connecting to nature for wellbeing' activity. A number of the women had expressed an interest in the excavation so we organised a trip over the hill to see  it. Everyone was very excited to arrive and see a real life 'dig' like on TV. Both women and children had a go at trowelling and hoped to uncover buried treasure! The finds were discussed and we talked about how pottery and earthenware was so important before we used plastics for everything. Many of the women had seen earthenware pots used for water and cooking in Pakistan and were excited to see how they could also be found as archaeological finds.

First of all the children had a go at digging

Jess explained what had been found at this site

and we talked about what exciting things our archaeologists had dug up at other sites

Then the women got into digging too, nobody wanted to leave!

Next on site were members of the PHLP Board, who like to go out and see what the projects have been doing on the ground when they meet prior to their formal meetings. 

This time Sue, Robert and Clifton all got involved in the trowelling!

under Holly's expert eye

Here is Jess helping to record levels at the site

On Thursday the People Enjoying Nature Thursday group came to site: 17 people!!
As the site had now been thoroughly excavated, drawn, recorded and surveyed the group were allowed to have a dig to see if there were any possible 'finds' to be had under and around the cobbles - the most likely place for them to be dropped.

Unfortunately there was no treasure to be found today either, but again everybody had a great time having a go at being archaeologists, some of the group wanted to stay all day!

This piece of pottery is probably the most interesting and oldest find from the site. It will be taken away to be examined and dated by the professionals.

On Friday 29th the digger will return and it will fill the spoil back into the excavated trenches and cleared areas, leaving the site as we found it and the mysteries back under ground.

A full report on the excavation will be produced in the Autumn and published on the Pendle Hill project website. Information will also be included in our end of project exhibition which will be touring Barrowford, Rimington and Clitheroe in October.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Roman Road Excavation, Blog Diary July 2022

 Days 6: Monday 25th July

Firstly a few shots form Friday (day 5)

Craig, in trench 2, continuing to dig

The plastic bag contains a find, we are finding small pieces of pottery, but still nothing Roman

Volunteers cleaning the cobbles off to reveal the extent of the road

Monday saw a return to the cobbles after a weekend of much-needed rain. The ground was blissfully soft and ideal for cleaning.

In trench 2 a relatively modern field drain revealed itself, chopping through the cobbled road surface and the later 19th century aggar deposit at an angle. Work continues to find the drain itself, although it is surprisingly deep!

In trench 3 the clean up operation began to get the two road surfaces and central slot ready for photographing and recording. The volunteers worked back in a line giving everything a robust trowel clean and Don worked within the central slot, straightening up the sections ready for its close up later in the week.

Don helpfully points out the cobbles!

Friday, July 22, 2022

Roman Road Excavation - Blog Diary, July 2022

 Day 4, Thursday 21st July 2022

Now mid way into the excavation, it was a day for 'cobbles, cobbles, and more cobbles' and as you can see we are finding plenty of them!

Scraping off the top layer of clay we are finding a pretty large expanse of typical Roman cobbled road. 

It's awesome to realise that this was built and used 2000 years ago!! It also continued to be a trackway and used by many people for centuries after it was abandoned by it's builders.

Carefully uncovering the surface of the road

In addition Brian is digging a test pit.....

...whilst Craig, Sarah and Aiden investigate more of trench 1 at the other end of the site.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Roman Road Excavation - Blog Diary July 2022

 Day 3 Wednesday 20th July

Craig from NAA shows the team how to wield a mattock

Unhindered by scorching conditions, today was a prime time for some heavy stuff!

Mattocks were out and soil was flying out of both trenches as we tried to find the base of the road deposits and any potential roadside ditches.

Big shout outs to Persy, Jess, Sarah, Aiden and George who made light work of some pretty solid clay!

Aiden has a go                                           And Jess.....
Sarah shows Persy and Craig she know how it's done

George gives it a go too!

Elsewhere, work was underway to reveal the extent of the surviving cobbled road surface. A beautiful job was made of cleaning the metalling in trench 2. 

Professional archaeologists  struggle with the patience it takes for such work (so Holly says, anyway, speaking for herself!) so we have nothing but admiration for our volunteers working steadily and sticking at it without complaint.

Big thanks to all our volunteers today - we had 12 people along in the 2 trenches: fab work everyone!


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Roman Road Excavation - Blog Diary July 2022

  Day 2: Tuesday 19 July 2022

Today was the day of national record breaking temperatures, and it was no different in Chatburn, Lancashire. The team of 5 volunteers worked slowly and carefully in the heat and we finished work early for the day.

Some early mattocking (breaking up the ground carefully) revealed the beginnings of a cobbled/metalled road surface, beneath an upper clay deposit. This clay layer contained more fragments of post medieval slipware, demonstrating that the road surface was repaired and materials re-used after the Roman period.

So there are no signs of the Romans themselves yet, but we will continue to look after we finish these ice creams!

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Roman Road Excavation - Blog Diary July 2022

 Day 1: Monday 18 July 2022

We have returned to the site of our excavation from last October, to further explore this length of a Roman Road which lies on land owned by Hanson's Cement near Chatburn. The road linked Ribchester to Ilkley, and this stretch is clearly seen in the landscapes at several points through Chatburn, Downham and Rimington where a number of our contractors and volunteers have been investigating.

This fortnight is being led by professional archaeologists at ECUS, aka Northern Archaeological Associates who have been supporting the PHLP Community Archaeology project for the last 4 years: Holly and Craig.  Sadly Rebecca, our long term professional is recovering from Covid and unable to attend. Also on hand to support are knowledgeable local historian Brian Jeffrey, UCLan summer intern Sarah Hunt, and freelance archaeologist Jess Wight. Each day 5-10 volunteers are signed up to dig!

Last week Sarah visited the site:

This is looking along the length of the road we are investigating - you can see the slightly domed nature of the land where Sarah is standing, this is the camber of the road, it was built like this to shed water off the surface: good engineers those Romans!  

Last year we excavated the central section, this time we are unearthing the sections at both ends of this stretch. So early on Monday the digger started work:

You can see NAA team Cath and Craig checking the digger operator only removes the topsoil....

Both ends cleared, and topsoil piled in the centre, ready to be re-instated next Friday when we finish.

Then the volunteers arrived to clear the rest of the loose soil and to start work digging 2 trenches running across the road, to reveal a cross section of the construction. 

Working in intense heat, we created 2 trenches, both revealing the thick clay aggar (compacted earth) of the cambered road, with a hint of metalling appearing at around 20cms depth. 

A potential linear feature, running parallel to the north-west edge of the road, was found, within what appears to be a less disturbed segment of metalled surface. This potentially could be a roadside ditch....or equally a more modern service trench for an electric cable, inconveniently running along the same alignment. Hopefully Tuesday will show us more!

We didn't unearth any Roman finds yet, but we did find fragments of clay tobacco pipe, a rimsherd of a brown slipware bowl, and some fragments of glass bottle: all likely 19th century in date and related to the now disused footpath to the south of trench 2.