Saturday, 10 November 2018

Thorne Moors - Pilgrimage - to the Raised bog (remains of) beyond Doncaster

Have you ever been to Thorne Moors? It used to be referred to as Thorne Waste on old maps. 


Thorne Moors - a former raised peat bog in East Yorkshire. To me, a mythical place.. where campaigns were held in the 1980s  to try to save it from total destruction for peat extraction.. (More notes in my next post)

Beyond and east of Doncaster. South of Goole. Beyond beyond.

(Note:- this article is being written by a Yorkshire person who lives at another end of Yorkshire, to the far west.)

Thorne is 2.5 hours drive away from Settle -  I live 6 miles from the source of the River Aire - and amazingly Thorne Moors is 8 miles from  the mouth of the Aire into the Ouse. (Six miles  beyond that, the Trent and the Ouse join to become the Humber.) 

In the 1980s  (and 1990s) I remember campaigns to try and save an area of raised bog in east Yorkshire, far away beyond Doncaster, that was being strip mined for peat by Fisons. It was a relic of the area of wet marshes and bogs of the Humberside Levels that had been a barrier to transport communications in the Middle Ages ..  until drained by Dutch engineers to give what is now grade 1 arable land. Rare plants had grown on this bog long ago such as the Rannoch Rush.

Peat was dug for centuries for fuel, leaving pools that became colonised by the surrounding Sphagna and vegetation. Larger pools were dug in the 19th C. and the peat taken by train to London for use for bedding for horses.

Cars were invented so it was no longer needed for the horses and peat digging dramatically reduced. Then Fisons bought it and just stripped the area of peat with mechanised means.

(Remember - we should avoid using peat for gardens - and we should use compost instead, or other peat substitutes, because even though Throne Moors peat extraction is now finished, vast areas of Irish bog are being destroyed. (See a picture of me looking at an Irish peat bog - to be added shortly.))

Eventually Fisons said they would give the bog to Natural England's forbear (Nature Conservancy Council/English Nature)  once they had extracted all the peat down to 1/2 m from the rock/sand/clay below.

In the 1980s I worked at Malham Tarn, and spent much time walking over the surface of Malham Tarn Moss (Peat Bog),  and showing students its fascinating plants. I showed them the results  of the former efforts of scientists to try and get parts of that bog "growing again". (30 years later some pools have not changed much, but others - the ones with some basic water input have have changed considerably though not to raised bog vegetation yet..)

Well, whilst on the YNU Bryophytes day at Nosterfield in October 2018, Steven Heathcote told me about the planned "Sphagnum day" at Thorne Moors for the 2nd November.  What an opportunity to visit the place! It was being organised by Helen Kirk of the Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum,  Kieran  Sheehan, and a team of botanists. 

I swotted up on the rare Sphagnum balticum - Baltic Bogmoss that was reputed to grow at Thorne Moors  There are  34 species of Sphagna that grow in Britain, and this one is extremely rare. I bought some new wellingtons, with aubergine trimmings to replace my leaking old ones,  booked a B&B at  the market town of Thorne over the internet, and set off.

At 9.30am on a sunny and cold morning, thirteen of us met at a farm in the flat grade one arable land, where we left most of our cars.. We  piled into three cars and drove 1/2 a mile along the narrow straight road, raised high above the surrounding flat land. I learned a new word "warp". Warping is the process by which the land had been subject to controlled flooding (when the tide was in)  in the past so that the fertile silt was deposited to the ground.

At the entrance to Thorne Moor Nature reserve there was a gate across the road to which our organiser had a key.

Suddenly we were in a different world. 
Our now gravel track, still very straight, was only just above the height of the surrounding soil - which now included reeds, pools, birch trees and various bog plants. The road was straight - it had been built for a rail track/tram track by the peat extraction companies. The wide sky came down to the  birch and reed lined flat horizon, with willows by the track. 

Our driver drove carefully not wishing to ground the car on the rough track, in places with grass down the middle.  The speed dropped to zero when a Marsh Harrier soared in front of us .. so close! Not just a dot in the distance with binoculars. It had white marks on the under surface of its wings.

I wondered if the birch trees would pose a management problem, turning the bog into birch car. I was assured that if (IF) the water table was maintained high enough, the birch would not grow. Much effort had been taken by Keiren's firm  to build control of drainage channels so that the water table could be maintained at a high level (by Natural England.)

We parked in the parking place, where there was a bench

Looking back along the very straight track

Same view with the camera set to telephoto

Same view - above picture cropped and enlarged

No road now, we would have to walk. 

We set off along another straight track, and came to a viewing platform. 

Picture from half way up viewing platform

And from the top

You used to look to infinity in all directions I was told - and just see birch and bog.   But now wind turbines are springing up all around.  The only landmarks were places like Goole Church tower and Gasworks. You can see that on the horizon a fifth of the way in from the left (above) and two thirds of the way in in the picture below.

We continued to our site. Here we divided into three groups, each with a "Sphagnum expert" Paul Buckland was our expert. Here we are looking at a specimen of Sphagnum.

Some of this is Sphagnum subnitens. It has a luminous sheen

I just wanted to sit down and make a survey of a couple of square metres to find out what really was growing here in this new habitat for me on my first visit to Thorne.  The others had shot off searching for new Spahgna. They knew what a big area they hoped to cover.

So I sat down. Amongst the Hare's-tail Cotton-grass, Common Cotton-grass, Cross-leaved Heath, Purple Moor-grass, Heather, and mostly just six species of Sphagna (fimbriatum, fallax, cuspidata, and occasionally papillosum, palustre and subnitens.  - no Sphagnum capillifolium ). I poked around and found Cranberry and dead Sundew leaves with overwintering buds ready to grow next year. (Elsewhere we found masses of Bog Rosemary)

I scraped up some "green felt" from the surface of the wet peat and looked at it under the lens.  It was full of liverworts. A Thorne "hepatic mat" (Liverwort mat) - It reminded me of the time Tom Blockeel had spent searching at Swarthoor/Helwith Bridge Moss for liverworts amongst the Spahgna there. I would take some back. (He was with us but with a different group)

I joined the others. Sphagnum denticulatum had been seen. They showed me some spiky Spagnum squarrosum (one of my favourites)

Then Paul found a healthy 1m patch of Sphagnum magellanicum (now called S  medium - but we like the old name). This has big hooded chunky leaves, branches that do not taper much, and red colour in their leaves or stem.

Sphagnum magellanicum section through stem

We considered it might be a patch that was introduced by Jane Smart who had carried out work her under Brian Wheeler in the 1980s. 

Further along there was evidence of previous experiments.

But the light was getting low. (Only  six weeks till the shortest day)

We made our way back towards the  three cars. We had a plenary discussion.  Helen gave Kay and I (as the only two people, I think, who did not have one) copies of the book: Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey 

Since then I have enjoyed reading this informative book.

Thank you to all the people who look after Thorne Moor now and to those who campaigned to save it in the past.

I stepped back from Narnia, into the wardrobe and returned to the Grade 1 arable land, then the headlamps of the rush hour traffic in the dark, returning to the M62 and A1, then other A roads and home.

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