Credit: © Jill Brookes

Our Work

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England


Practical Restoration At around 3,300 ha in extent, the Humberhead Peatlands form the largest complex of lowland raised bog in the UK and are designated as a National Nature Reserve. The two main sites, Thorne and Hatfield Moors, were exploited for peat over many centuries. The integrity of the bog and its unique biodiversity were severely threatened during the 20th century, by mechanised peat extraction and associated drainage. These activities finally ended in 2004 and provided the opportunity to restore the UK's largest area of degraded raised bog. The LIFE+ project has enabled a step-change in the scale of restoration activities. The LIFE+ Project will undertake a range of practical restoration activities, including managing the water levels across the sites and vegetation to encourage the Peatlands to return to favourable conditions. Water Level Management Management of the water levels on the site are seen to be the key to the restoration. To support the wetland vegetation, water levels need to be at or around the surface of the ground, and need to be reasonably constant, not varying beyond 15 cm (6") above or below ground level to avoid drowning or drying out the plants. To achieve this we have installed an extensive network of bunds (to slow water movement across the surface), dams and weirs (to control water movement in the drains). Most of the recent work has been carried out in partnership with the local Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs). Vegetation Management The drying out of the moors for the extraction of peat led to ideal conditions in which birch and rhododendron plants could colonise. Once established the birch and rhododendron increase the drying out of the peat surface drawing up the water, effectively sucking the peat dry. The birch and rhododendron not only suck the water from the peat but their canopy acts like an umbrella shading large areas of the peat surface and restricting rainfall reaching the surface of the peat preventing specialist bog plants from establishing. The management of this birch and rhododendron scrub is important for the restoration of the moors. The LIFE+ Project aims to remove birch and rhododendron scrub across both Thorne Moor SAC and Hatfield Moor SAC. Areas on the Moors have been specially selected to provide the best possible outcome of the restoration. All resulting rhododendron regrowth will be controlled through the use of targeted herbicide application. Increased and stabilised water levels created by the removal of the scrub and Water Level Management works will reduce the potential regrowth and in turn create a sustainable habitat for the bog vegetation. The removal of the dense birch and rhododendron scrub will also increase the available nesting habitat of the European Nightjar creating large open spaces in which the birds can choose to nest. The removal of the scrub has been undertaken by our 'in house' Natural England Estate Team and the assistance of specialist contractors. The Natural England Estate Team are responsible for the clearance of the more sensitive areas of the site and have been using chainsaws, wood chippers and tree poppers to clear the encroaching scrub. Click to view video The larger and denser areas of vegetation have been cleared through the use of specialist contractors using purpose built forestry mulchers and tree clearing equipment. Click to view video


Monitoring in the project aims to provide evidence for the effects of restoration activities on Thorne and Hatfield Moors (the Moors). It establishes a baseline of evidence against which the future course of restoration can be assessed. Monitoring is targeted on the following key features:

  • the European nightjar population,
  • vegetation communities,
  • invertebrate assemblages,
  • water levels.
Socio-economic assessments are also being carried out to demonstrate the effects of the project on:

  • the local economy,
  • the ability of the peatlands to actively form peat and hence reduce the effects of climate change,
  • the cultural and social benefits gained by the local community.

Credit: © Natural England

Nightjars British nightjars overwinter in Africa but breed in heathland, forestry plantations and lowland peatlands between May and September. They feed at night on moths and other flying insects, foraging both on the peatlands and in the wider countryside. We're studying the nightjar's responses to the restoration, in detail, by tracking their movements with satellite tags. The tags record the bird's position every few minutes, for up to a week at a time. This allows us to deduce their foraging, nesting and roosting behaviour in relation to the peatland habitat. We are also measuring the breeding success of the nightjar by monitoring their nesting attempts, clutch sizes and chick survival. By ringing young birds, we can tell which individuals return to the peatlands.

Credit: © Durzan Ciano - licensed Creative Commons

Credit: © Lucy Ryan, University of York

Vegetation communities We aim to find out whether the restoration activities successfully restore the bog's special plants. Monitoring will also identify whether any activities need to be refined for the vegetation to reach its desired state. The vegetation monitoring is being carried out at two scales: first, detailed field surveys of the cover and composition of 'positive' and 'negative' indicator plant species; and second, broad scale aerial photography of Thorne and Hatfield Moors to detect habitat change.

Credit: © Natural England

Habitat change can be measured from the vegetation in high resolution aerial photography.

Invertebrates assemblages Lowland raised bogs support specialised insects and spiders as well as mosses and plants. The Moors are home to some insects that occur virtually nowhere else in Britain: the Thorne pip palp ground beetle (Bembidion humerale), the mire pill beetle (Curimopsis nigrita) and hairy canary fly (Phaonia jaroschewskii). Such species rarely occur outside the raised bog habitat, so successful bog restoration should benefit them too. A programme of pitfall and water trap sampling is being used to study the invertebrates. We are doing this at the same sites we used for detailed vegetation monitoring. This allows the responses of the invertebrate assemblages to be related to the effects of scrub removal and changing wetness, as well as vegetation change.

Credit: © Natural England

The bog bush cricket (Merioptera brachyptera)

Monitoring Water Levels Monitoring groundwater levels on the Moors is a critical element of the restoration work. It is being done using automatic dataloggers, installed in a network of boreholes, which can record the water level every hour. They will demonstrate whether the water management activities, such as dam and weir construction, peat bunding and installation of a new pump, have been successful in controlling water levels.

Credit: © Natural England

Downloading water level data at a borehole

Socio-economics - Economic impact assessment

By studying expenditure by the project and visitors to the Moors we should get a better understanding of the benefits of the project on the local economy. Changes in the numbers of visitors to the Moors is being monitored by means of automatic visitor counters. Socio-economics - Regulating ecosystem services

Lowland raised bogs help perform a service to society by controlling important functions in the ecosystem. One of these is the capture of carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon is locked into the undecayed remains of plants in bogs, helping to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases. We are studying the effects of the restoration work on the peat-forming capacity of Thorne and Hatfield Moors. Socio-economics - Cultural ecosystem services

The restoration of the Moors has the potential to improve their cultural and heritage values to visitors and the local community. Examples of such values include opportunities for recreation, understanding the past and appreciating nature. These services to society are being studied via postal questionnaire surveys of the local community, surveys at public events and by interviewing visitors. During the lifetime of the Project a series of reports will be produced detailing the outcomes from our monitoring works. These reports will be made available on the Reports Page.

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England

Credit: © Natural England


Introduction Raising public awareness and explaining what work we are carrying out and why on the Humberhead Peatlands, to local communities and the academic world is a key element of the LIFE+ project. We will are working with the local community to explain our work in terms of how we:

  • Manage the water levels through the installation of dams, weirs and bunds.
  • Clear scrub vegetation to reduce the amount of water being sucked out of the peat.
  • Re-create conditions to allow specialist wildlife to flourish.
  • Safeguard the habitat and biodiversity, including rare habitat, and specialist species
We are working with the academic world to share knowledge, experience, best practice and lessons learnt for the benefit of local, national and European scientific audiences, including other LIFE+ projects.

Community activities

We run a variety of community events, circulate a regular newsletter, host guided walks on Hatfield and Thorne Moors, and offer volunteering opportunities. We also publish and promote the results of our work through a series of regular reports, open days, workshops and conference.


We have a number of volunteers who work on both Hatfield and Thorne Moors, undertaking a range of activities. We are keen to encourage more people to get involved. To find out more, please visit our Get Involved page.