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Restoration of ‘lost peatlands’ to combat climate change

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Following extensive work during the winter months, the National Lottery funded Lost Peatlands of South Wales Project has announced that 23 hectares of bog habitat has now been restored within the project area.

The upland landscape between Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf has a wealth of natural assets which, if managed carefully the group says, can have a big impact on human-induced climate change while also reversing biodiversity decline by protecting these globally rare habitats.

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It adds that peatland management is one of the crucial tools in the world’s approach to achieving its carbon goals – and for good reason. They are among the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth, storing around 25% of total soil carbon while only occupying 3% of the global land area.

Peatlands in good condition act as a carbon sink – locking in vast amounts of carbon formed over millennia – and they can also reduce flood risk, improve water quality, support biodiversity and have a net cooling effect on climate.

However, when peatlands are damaged, they become a significant carbon emitter. It’s therefore vital to assess the peatlands we have and determine how best to restore them. This is typically done by focusing on the hydrology of an area, and through restoration works the ‘re-wetting’ of peatlands will allow their return to a near natural state.

Following extensive surveys of previously afforested areas in the Welsh Government Woodland Estate, three sites were identified and brought forward by Natural Resources Wales for restoration.

Commercial forestry dominates this landscape following planting in the 1950s in line with calls for UK grown timber – post Second World War. To achieve this, areas of peatland were drained through channels ploughed into the landscape, and as a result the water level has since dropped, leaving these habitats exposed and degraded. This dried peat is either lost to the atmosphere or washed downstream, and along with it goes vast amounts of organic carbon formed over millennia.

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To restore these bog systems all that needs to be done is to ‘re-wet’ them by bringing the water level back to the surface. Once back to a near natural state, carbon will be locked in and the remarkable species that is Sphagnum moss can once again spread and continue to create these unique wetlands.

There are many ways to re-wet and restore bog systems or ‘mires’, with most techniques simply blocking drainage channels or areas of surface run-off. This can be done by physically putting in dams made of wood or metal/plastic piling, or preferably re-working the land to form dams or bunds made of peat itself.

For the first project site up for restoration – Castell Nos Habitat Restoration Area – a series of small peat dams have been ‘keyed’ into the existing drainage channels. This is already holding back water thus raising the water table. Cross tracking – where an excavator drives over the peatland – is also a technique used here to generally flatten the landscape, reducing drainage and creating good conditions for Sphagnum moss.

This site is classed as a trial example for restoring previously afforested peatlands. To analyse the work, project ecologists, Swansea University and volunteers will be monitoring the site for aspects such as ground water levels, water quality and vegetation composition.

Cllr Jeremy Hurley, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Wellbeing, said: “Once data is collected on this project it will help fill in the evidence gaps in scientific literature regarding restoration in this scenario and that will be a key project outcome – informing best practise for future peatland work – both in Wales and beyond.”

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Rhys Jones, Conservation Land Management Team Leader from Natural Resources Wales said: “We’re proud to deliver restoration on Castell Nos this year as part of the Lost Peatlands Project. The previously afforested land has served us well in its purpose as a managed forest which also provided a service to carbon sequestration, water management, cooling, and as habitat for local biodiversity.”

The work is funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund and delivered in partnership between Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf Councils, Natural Resources Wales, Swansea University and Coed Lleol.

(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Business

Energy intensive industries could get further relief under new Government proposals

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High electricity using businesses like steel and paper mills could see further relief under new proposals to help subsidise their electricity costs.

The UK Government is consulting on the option to increase the level of exemption for certain environmental and policy costs from 85% of costs up to 100%.

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This reflects higher UK industrial electricity prices than those of other countries including in Europe, which could hamper investment, competition and commercial viability for hundreds of businesses in industries including steel, paper, glass, ceramics, and cement, and risk them relocating from the UK.

The proposal would help around 300 businesses supporting 60,000 jobs in the UK’s industrial heartlands. Looking at ways to reduce the cost of doing business for key industries would help secure the future of domestic manufacturing and maintain a competitive business environment in the UK, ensuring economic growth and protecting thousands of jobs across the country.

The Energy Intensive Industries Exemption Scheme provides businesses with relief for the costs of renewable levies, including Contracts for Difference, the Renewable Obligation and Feed in Tariffs, in their energy bills.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “British manufacturers are the lifeblood of our economy and central to our plans to overcome this period of economic uncertainty.

“With global energy prices at record highs, it is essential we explore what more we can do to deliver a competitive future for those strategic industries so we can cut production costs and protect jobs across the UK.”

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Director General of UK Steel Gareth Stace said: “The publication of this consultation is a significant step forward in delivering competitive electricity prices for the UK steel sector and should provide some much-needed relief in the face of extremely challenging circumstances at the current time. While there remain difficulties, this announcement demonstrates that UK Government understands the challenges of British industry and continues to support steelmakers and steel communities across the country.”

(Lead image: Gareth James / Geograph / Creative Commons 2.0)

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Environment

Cadle Heath Local Nature Reserve receives first prestigious Green Flag award

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One of Swansea’s hidden rural gems has received its first coveted Green Flag Community Award thanks to the “unwavering dedication and commitment” of its selfless volunteers.

Cadle Heath Local Nature Reserve in the Penderi area, has been awarded the prestigious accolade from Welsh environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy, after being maintained by its volunteers for a number of years.

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The 11.5 hectare heathland received Green Flag status in recognition of its excellent visitor facilities, high environmental standards, and commitment to delivering great quality green space.

Cadle Heath, which is owned and maintained by Swansea Council in partnership with volunteers from Swansea Community Farm, sits on the edge of the Penderi regeneration area and is a key green space for nature and the surrounding community. 

As one of the country’s exemplary urban heathlands, it is protected as a local nature reserve and is home to species including butterflies and dragonflies, frogs, skylarks, heather, southern marsh orchids and whorled caraway. 

Katharine Aylett, wellbeing officer at Swansea Community Farm, which is situated next to the heath, said: “Cadle Heath is an absolute gift on the farm’s doorstep, a free to access green space with diverse wildlife and lots of areas to explore.

“For the farm volunteers, the Heath offers huge benefits for their wellbeing, it feels like a wildlife haven in the city, giving them the time and space to slow down their day and take notice of nature.

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“We’re so glad that all of their hard work in keeping the heath well-maintained and beneficial to wildlife has been recognised by the Green Flag Award.”

The Green Flag Award programme is delivered in Wales by environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy, with support from the Welsh Government. Cadle Heath is one of six Local Nature Reserves in Swansea owned and managed by Swansea Council.

Councillor David Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Biodiversity, said: “We are delighted that Cadle Heath has achieved this much-deserved Green Flag Award, and would like to thank the Community Farm volunteers for all their support in helping the council to look after this very special wildlife site, which provides opportunities for local people to connect with and enjoy the nature on their doorstep.”

The heathland falls within the Penderi regeneration area, which is part of housing association Pobl’s Penderi Green Regeneration Project. The project aims to support local people in Penderi to connect with their green spaces to boost wellbeing, develop skills and support nature to thrive.

Funded by UK Government, under the Community Renewal Fund (CRF), Pobl Group is able to deliver the Project with the help of key partners, Swansea Environment Centre, Room To Grow, Swansea Community Farm and the Nature Conservation Team at Swansea Council.

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Carmarthenshire

Residents encouraged to have say on Teifi Valley flooding schemes

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Consultation on flood prevention schemes by Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion councils in the Teifi Valley has been extended to August 31 to give more residents an opportunity to have their say.

Face-to-face events in Llandysul and Llynybydder have been added to the previous online only consultation.

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Residents can visit the powerhouse in Llandysul on Wednesday 24 August between 10am and 1pm, or between 3pm and 6pm. There’s also an event at Llanybydder RFC on Thursday 25 August between 10am and 1pm, and also between 3pm and 6pm.

Officers from Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion County Councils and Natural Resources Wales will be in attendance to answer any queries along with a representative from the consultants appointed by both authorities.

The council’s say that all partners involved want to understand the impact that flooding has on communities, how the flooding happens and to assess different flood measures that will reduce the impact during increasingly stormy weather in the future.

People will be able to submit feedback in person by writing their comments down and putting them in the box located at the venues. This will be in addition to the comments and suggestions submitted during the online consultation process.

The councils say that feedback from the consultation and these events will feed into the next stage of work and form part of any decision making that Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government will undertake to design and implement any flood risk reduction scheme.

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Carmarthenshire County Council’s  Cabinet Member for Transport, Waste and Infrastructure Services Cllr Edward Thomas said: “We want as much feedback as possible from residents so that together we can look further into the options available to us to manage flood risk in these communities. The drop-in events will provide an opportunity for residents to speak to officers about the different options available and the next steps.”

Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Environmental Services and Carbon Management Keith Henson said: “We encourage the residents of Llandysul, Pont-Tyweli and Llanybydder to have their say in this consultation, either by attending the in-person events at the said locations or by visiting the online link on the council’s website. The responses from this consultation will enable us and our partners to explore what options we have to manage flood risk in the Teifi Valley.”

Lead image: Humphrey Bolton / Geograph)

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