Peat Alert!

Mud, Glorious Mud...

 

The recent direct action campaign fighting to defend peat bogs from destruction has been going on for about two years now, taking over where others left off and injecting new spirit into the battle. This article is a basic introduction to the ecology and social history of bogs, the recent campaign, as well as an insight into the political machinations that seem to overwhelm so many ecological issues - just one more reason to ignore the lot and hit them where it hurts!

 

Thorne and Hatfield Moors

The Humberhead Levels, stretching from York to Gainsborough and from Grimsby to Doncaster, were created as ice retreated after the last glaciation, leaving a flattened landscape, much of which is at or below sea-level. Thorne Moors and Hatfield Moor are south of the Humber estuary and make up a total of 3,000 hectares of peat land. They are among the remnants of an extensive complex of lowland raised mires which started growing in the new landscape around 4,500 years ago. Thorne and Hatfield and are now the two largest surviving lowland raised mires in Britain.[1]

Although close neighbours, the two sites are far from identical. Their geology and histories are very different and their habitat ranges are distinctive. Just over half of Thorne Moors is re-grown abandoned peat workings, criss-crossed by drainage ditches, clinker towpaths and disused canals, with fen meadow, willow and birch scrub and mature woodland at the edges. In the midst of this mosaic are pockets of living, growing mire. Over 80% of the surface of Hatfield Moor has been stripped and worked for peat. Part of the remainder supports native Scots pine, and the centre of the moor is an important sandy heath land.

After centuries of damage and destruction, the area of raised bog habitat in the UK remaining in a natural state and still laying down peat (active bog) is 6,000 hectares: only 6% of the original area.[2] Of the 10,000 or so raised bogs in Britain, only one site supports bog habitat across its entire structure: Glen Moss in Scotland, which covers just six hectares. England, which originally held the largest area of raised bog, no longer has any sites where active bog predominates. Even within the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), there is more damaged area than pristine active bog.[3] The total amount of raised bog habitat in prime, natural condition is well below the 10,000 hectares recognised as the minimum area required for its secure conservation.[4] Active raised bog in Europe is now so scarce that it is listed under the European Council directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

What is Peat?

Raised peat bogs are formed in low-lying waterlogged areas. Rather than decaying, acidic sphagnum moss is preserved due to the lack of oxygen, which means that a living bog grows at a rate of between 2mm and 15mm per year. Sphagnum moss is immensely absorbent; indeed until the Second World War dried moss was preferred to cotton wool in field hospitals, being also sterile and having antiseptic qualities. In the mid-18th Century the raised bog on Thorne Moors was over 20 foot high, and would grow up to 8 foot higher in the winter because of the wet weather. 'Quaking bogs', as they are sometimes known can be as little as 2% solids - the rest made up of water. One 19th Century naturalist, Adrian Woodruffe-Peacock, a Lincolnshire vicar, described it as, "trembling in waves when you jumped on its... surface, till the undulations were lost in the distance or at the edge of the nearest ditch".[5]

Due to the lack of decay, locked up inside the peat bogs is an irreplaceable archive of past climate conditions, vegetation and human activity dating back thousands of years. Ancient boats, human bodies, trees and pollen have all been found preserved in peat. As organisms grow they use carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change), storing it as carbon, and as they decay the carbon is released. Peat is essentially undecayed plant-matter, storing between 500 and 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon globally.[6] Research in the USA suggests that alterations in the extent of peat bogs would change the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by up to 20%, because living peat bogs absorb and contain CO2 as they grow, while drained (not to mention dug up and spread around) bogs decay, releasing thousands of years worth of stored carbon into the air.

Peatlands are unique because they are acidic and low in nutrients, creating conditions for a particularly specialised ecology. In addition, peatland habitats are ecologically distinct from each other, as variations in rainfall, geology and surrounding habitats encourage different species. Thorne and Hatfield are home to over 800 species of flowering plants and ferns and hundreds of species of mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi. At least three rare species of carnivorous plant are found on Thorne and Hatfield:

  • The Round-Leaved Sundew and Butterwort live in the boggy bits and trap insects in the gunk they secrete on their leaves, and then enfold them so that they are digested in the secretions, leaving only wings, claws, skin and the indigestible part of the insect's skeleton as the leaves unfold once more.
  • The Bladderwort lives in water on the fen margins, and has no roots, but only a mass of fronds, each of which bears several tiny "bladders". Hairs on the mouth of the bladder are sensitive to insects swimming by, thus triggering the flat little sac to open up, which sucks in water and the unfortunate insect. Once trapped, the insect is not killed, but starves and then decays, releasing the required nutrients to the plant.

Hatfield Moor alone has 5,500 species of invertebrates - a truly astonishing figure, and there are different species again on Thorne. About 150 nationally scarce or endangered species have been recorded, including several which are unique to one or both of these Moors. They are also home to over 200 species of birds, including the Nightjar, Woodlark, Nightingale, Woodcock, Curlew, Peregrine and Short and Long-Eared owls. Hatfield is the only lowland breeding site in England of the Twite or Heather Linnet. Wintering birds of prey such as Merlin, Hen harrier and Marsh harrier depend on large expanses of undisturbed habitat to hunt over, and their numbers declined drastically as the area of the Moors under active peat cutting expanded during the 1980s.

Peat Cutting

Peat was traditionally cut by hand, a slow method, which enabled peatland wildlife to survive among the flooded peat cuttings and allowed the vegetation to regenerate over time. New peat 'milling' extraction methods in the 1980s brought intensive drainage and the almost complete removal of surface vegetation, along with the top layer of peat, from large parts of the Moors

"Drainage not only can affect the plants and animals that live on a peat bog, but also can change the character of the bog itself. The essence of an acid peat bog - what enables it to maintain its acidic condition - is its wetness. Once the soil dries out, plants die and decay as they would in any other habitat. The nutrients supplied by the decayed plant matter change the bog from a low-nutrient, acid habitat to a nutrient-rich, alkaline one. Nor can the effects of severe drainage be reversed by returning water to the bog." - Catherine Caufield, Thorne Moors (1991)

A network of ditches and drains is cut across and around the moor, draining water out and pumping it away. When the land is dry enough (around Easter or a bit later) rotivators are brought on, which churn up the surface, destroying the delicate soil structure of the peat and any palaeoenvironmental record contained in it. These are followed by bulldozers, which scrape the loose peat into ridges and then by harvesters, which hoover it up into the dumper trucks which dump it in long, high mounds next to a narrow gauge railway. At Hatfield it is processed all year round, stocks having just about run out by the time the next cutting season comes round. It is important to note that because bogs are mainly liquid, damage (through drainage) to habitats and the peat archive extends beyond the extraction area to affect the entire site.[7]

William Bunting: Thorne Moors Greatest Defender!

In the early 1950s, an irascible, uncompromising man called William Bunting arrived in Thorne. Born in Barnsley in 1916 he had acted as a courier and smuggler for the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Fascinated by the moors, Bunting became a self-taught naturalist. His discoveries include a species of alga that lives on the antenna of microscopic water fleas, and as well as this he was the first person to draw attention to the Bronze Age wooden pathway under Thorne Moors.

Angered by the publication in 1952 of West Riding County Council's footpath map, showing no paths at all on Thorne, Bunting taught himself to read Latin, Medieval English and Norman French so to acquaint himself with the confused and arcane laws and administrative regulations on public rights-of-way. With this knowledge he fought the illegal enclosure of Thorne through the courts for the next two decades. He also continued to walk the old footpaths, removing obstacles and confronting angry landowners as he went. When walking on the moors he carried a gun, a walking stick concealing a razor-sharp sabre, a machete and his wire cutters. When asked if he had ever had occasion to fire a gun while on the moors, he roared, "What do you think I use them for, picking my bloody nose?"

In the early 1960s, conventional wisdom was that farming and peat digging had already ruined Thorne Moors and it was generally regarded as a piece of wasteland. The Yorkshire Naturalists' Trust voted not to object to a plan to dump fuel ash on the moors. Bunting, outraged, wrote scathing letters, compiled reports and badgered the organisation's leading lights to come and see for themselves. They reversed their decision. Bunting defeated numerous plans for similar schemes. As well as the planners and developers, Bunting also had to fight the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC - a precursor of English Nature) which had denied for many years that there was anything of interest on Thorne Moors.

In late 1971, Fisons excavated several deep drains that threatened to destroy completely the richest part of the area. With the heart of the moors at risk, Bunting and a group of naturalists, local residents and students from a number of northern universities took matters into their own hands. Calling themselves Bunting's Beavers, the group went onto the Moors practically every weekend throughout the spring and summer of 1972 to dam the drains. Fisons' workers were unable to keep up with them and by the early autumn dozens of dams had been built, some of them more than forty feet thick.

In October 1972, shortly after a BBC TV crew filmed the Beavers at work, Fisons dynamited 18 of the dams. The Beavers repaired the dams, and Fisons, which had been showered with unfavourable publicity, let the new dams stand. Fisons eventually entered into an agreement to protect that area from drainage and cutting, and to reinforce several of the Beavers' dams and eleven years later, the NCC bought 180 acres of it and declared it a National Nature Reserve.

William Bunting died in 1995, having been pensioned out of the army in the late 1940s with TB and diagnosed shortly afterward with a crippling inflammation of the vertebrae. He was ill and in terrible pain for much of his life, yet without his obsessive and aggressive protection, Thorne Moors would have been destroyed long ago.

We take his words to heart: "I suggest that the essence of conservation lies with one simple word, NO! Don't become like those prostitutes in the Nature Conservancy. Say no, mean no, fight to retain the places we have."

Source: Thorne Moors by Catherine Caufield (Sumach Press, 1991)

Recent Wranglings

From the 1300s, rights of turbary (peat-cutting) for fuel were exercised on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors for hundreds of years by local people. In the 1820s the government enclosed the land and awarded it to individuals, the local churches and schools etc. It was then possible to sell the land on. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Thorne Moors were very extensively commercially worked for peat, most of which was sold as bedding for horses. With the advent of the internal combustion engine this market virtually disappeared and little peat was cut between the mid 1920s and the early 1960s. Planning permission for peat extraction covering almost the whole of both Moors was granted in 1950. In the 1960s the first mechanised forms of peat extraction - block cutting - arrived when Fisons and companies like them started marketing peat as a growth medium (compost) for horticulture. Fisons Ltd. reputedly owned the land (absolute title has never been proved), including sand and gravel extraction rights from the 1963 to 1994 when they became Levington Horticulture Ltd. in a management buyout.

The Scotts Company (UK), based in Ohio, bought out Levington Horticulture Ltd. in 1997. Scotts, as the current leaseholder on the land, held the mineral extraction planning permission granted over 50 years, which was due to run out in 2023.

From 1990 the Peatland Campaign Consortium (PCC) membersand other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) were running a strong campaign to save peat bogs and promote peat alternatives. Indeed, in 1992 such was the success of the campaign that it was thought that it would be possible to ensure that:

  • No peat was being extracted from SSSIs within 12 months.
  • No peat was being extracted from bogs of conservation value within two years.
  • Peat extraction would cease altogether in the UK within five years.[8]

The campaign was affecting Fisons' sales enough to bring them to the negotiating table. They approached the government for help, who left English Nature (a government agency) to sort it out. This led to 'The Counterpart Lease' between Fisons and English Nature which was signed in 1994. The lease required Fisons to donate 8,100 acres of freehold peatland to English Nature - some of which became a National Nature Reserve - BUT the holding company kept all mineral extraction rights (including sand and gravel which is under the peat) on 5,300 acres, in places where work had already started. Planning permission for peat extraction which was granted in the 1950s was to last until 2023. Once extraction had ceased the land would be restored and managed by English Nature.

As part of the agreement an average peat depth of 0.5m was to be left.[9] Note, however, that 'average' means they can (and do) dig deeper in some areas to allow access to the sand and gravel underneath, whilst not digging as deep in other areas as the bottom level of the peat undulates naturally.

In addition English Nature must "not knowingly (...) encourage or assist others to do anything which may directly or indirectly prevent, restrict or impede the use of the property for the approved use."[10]

So, although the deal brought roughly half of Thorne Moors into immediate conservation management, it also resulted in the ludicrous situation whereby English Nature was effectively made landlord to continued peat-cutting on the rest of the site and undermined the SSSI-peat consumer boycott. Even when three nightjar territories were found, mining was not halted in the area, even though the nightjar is a protected species. Outrageously, English Nature announced the agreement in a press release entitled "Agreement Saves Key Peatlands". However, this is what Dr Derek Ratcliffe, former Chief Scientist of the disbanded Nature Conservancy Council had to say:

"The deferred promise of eventually returning worked-over bog to conservation management has a hollow ring, since there is no acceptable evidence that peatland worked out by the modern methods of machine milling has any further value for peat-bog wildlife."

"Protesters have pointed out that English Nature had no need to rush into such a deal with Fisons... as the tide is flowing in the conservationists' favour and the firm itself was on the ropes. English Nature could have let the voluntary bodies batter away to stop the peat mining, as they had some chance of doing. What it has done is to rescue the developers." [11]

In 1995 English Nature recommended parts of Thorne Moors for proposed Special Area of Conservation (pSAC) status which would grant the council the power to override old planning permissions.[12] The lesser Specially Protected Area status was also recommended at this time and granted in 2000.[13]

In May 1997 all hell broke loose when English Nature published a proposal to denotify 5% of Thorne and 35% of Hatfield, i.e. to rescind its Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) status.[14] Using reports funded by Scotts,[15] which showed that the hydrology of the site was so badly damaged by the peat working that it could no longer be restored, English Nature proposed that SSSI status was no longer warranted. In October a public meeting in Thorne (organised by Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum and Friends of the Earth) attracted over 400 people objecting to the denotification. Local conservationists were told (off the record) by English Nature staff that Hatfield Moor might need to be sacrificed to save the more precious Thorne Moor.[16] The Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum raised over £5,000 for palaeoenvironmental, ecology and hydrology reports, countering the Scotts funded research and proving that the moors were still quality habitat.[17] In December 1997 the Council of English Nature announced it would not be amending the SSSI boundaries of Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

In 1999, having been made a pSAC in 1995, parts of Thorne finally achieved cSAC (the step before complete Special Area of Conservation status is awarded but for all intents and purposes a SAC) and soon after the rest of Thorne and all of Hatfield was proposed for submission. Giving the whole moors SAC status could eventually require a mineral planning review to identify and assess permissions impacting upon the site (and copious procrastinatory consultations with regard to resolution/alternatives/buy out). The government and the Scotts Company endlessly batted the decision back and forth between them, via English Nature. Every other month English Nature reported 'expecting the proposals to have been submitted to Brussels by now,' but following objections from the Peat Producers Association, the Scotts Company and William Sinclair Ltd., the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) continually delayed.

On February 18th 2002, Peat Alert! called a national day of action, hitting 8 Scotts sites at once (see Action section). On 27th February, Scotts surprised the rest of the peat industry by announcing a deal with DEFRA and English Nature. In essence, DEFRA finally stepped in to fill the financial gap the local councils could never hope to bridge, paying Scotts £20.3 million for the minerals extraction rights on all their pSACs. Scotts stopped cutting that day on Thorne Moors, Wedholme Flow and half of Hatfield Moor. The same day, the Peat Producers Association (PPA) changed its name to the 'Growing Media Association'.

The new agreement is over 300 pages long, and disappointing as far campaigners and activists are concerned: Scotts still have until September 2004 (three cutting seasons) to extract nearly a million cubic metres of peat from three or four fields on the southern and eastern sides of Hatfield. There will be independent monitoring of the amount taken. If, for whatever reason, Scotts are forced to stop earlier without having taken their quota, they will be compensated. English Nature will pay Scotts for the use of their equipment and some of their staff for 3-4 years as part of the restoration work.[18] English Nature are planning to flood large areas of the site and will therefore need to bring in another 300-600 cubic metres of peat[19] (no one knows where from) to create the 'bunds' (dykes). Given the size of its peat operation in comparison to the rest of its business, it becomes less surprising that Scotts is hoping that the kudos is worth more than the peat itself - particularly since there is so little left in any case.

In the meantime DEFRA is still refusing to submit the sites individually for SAC designation, which, if it were granted, could still take up to seven years to implement.

We really are beyond the eleventh hour - the experts fight over how to restore the moors, while companies continue extracting peat from them, bringing peatland habitats ever closer to the brink. No one knows whether it is even possible for the moors to regenerate. Ten years ago, predictions were dire, yet experts are still making increasingly desperate estimates about regeneration, still trying to provide evidence that the moors have enough ecological interest to warrant legal protection. At Thorne and Hatfield they have proved their case, but the peat industry is still winning there and on other sites, due to a frustrating combination of corporate greed and legal bureaucracy.

"Sooner or Later We All Have to go to the Bog"

The lowly bog could be the true 'climax' plant community into which all ecosystems will evolve. Peatlands cover over four million square kilometres of the Earth' surface, ranging from frozen tundra to tropical bogs. Conventional 'succession theory' holds that plant communities naturally and predictably evolve to a stable 'climax' vegetation, which is usually forest. According to the textbooks, peatlands are merely an occasional stepping stone on the way. Some scientists, however, disagree, saying they have found widespread evidence that the true point of most succession is the peat bog. One American proponent, Lee Klinger, says: "My studies... show a well documented progression from herbaceous communities to forests, which gradually become stunted and slow-growing until finally there is Sphagnum bog."

Once established bog communities are extremely stable, and only disappear because of external disturbances, such as human exploitation, changing climate, permanent flooding or fire. This new succession theory leads, bizarrely, to the conclusion that the most highly evolved communities contain the most primitive species. As Klinger says: "We go back from angiosperms to bryophytes in bogs. In the long term, perhaps algae will take over from bryophytes." Britain's leading bog specialist comments: "If you look in the bottom of the peat bogs on the Pennines you find the remains of birch woods that were there 5,000 years ago until they were overwhelmed by peat."

(Source: 'Forests Destined to End in the Mire', Fred Pearce, New Scientist, 07/05/94)

Other Peat Bogs

There are many smaller bogs in the UK, both raised mire and blanket bogs, currently being mined for horticultural products, principally in Scotland, Cumbria, the Fens and Somerset. However, these do not satisfy the British gardener's appetite, so the peat industry also imports vast quantities of peat. In volume terms, the UK market demand for peat stands at approximately 3.4 million m3 of which about 40% is imported, mostly from Ireland.[20] Since 1998 Scotts have had a deal with Bord na Mona, the Irish Peat Development Board, to process and distribute Irish peat via the Hatfield peat works. Ireland is famous for its peat, indeed it has vast reserves, but it also has several peat-fired power stations and plans for more.

On the other hand, the second biggest peat producer in the UK, William Sinclair Ltd., imports much of its peat from Estonia and Scotts is planning to increase Eastern European imports as its UK exploitation decreases. According to Alan Shaw at the Growing Media Association, up to 10 percent of the UK's peat now comes from the Baltics, and the figure is expected to rise. "I think [imports from Central and Eastern Europe] will grow, and I suspect the Baltic countries and Russia will become more important," he says. Around a fifth of Estonia is covered in peat bogs, most of which have inadequate environmental protection. Over the next few years, peat cutting will be exhausted in the low-lying coastal regions, and firms are putting considerable pressure on the government to move on to untouched bogland, some of Europe's last safe havens for wildlife. Peatlands in Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine are also particularly vulnerable. In addition to the horticulture industry, fuel companies are also eager to exploit the resource in Central and Eastern Europe. Peat fuelled power stations - an inefficient and polluting energy source - might prove tempting to countries in the region that are trying to resolve energy shortages. "Peat power companies in Ireland and Finland are working very hard to persuade people in Estonia to buy their technology," warns Richard Lindsay, a peatlands expert at the University of East London.[21]


The Flow Country, Northern Scotland - This vast expanse of peatlands is globally important. Britain contains one-seventh of the world's blanket peatland and most of this is in the Flow Country. Threatened by exploitation, afforestation and climate change, this wilderness is in need of uncompromising defence!

Chronology of Action

In April 1992 Earth First! hit the headlines with its first publicised act of ecotage in the UK: £100,000 damage to digging machinery on Thorne Moors.

Following that, Aire Valley Earth First! (now Leeds EF!) failed to stop work for a day, when they couldn't actually find any machinery - those were the days when you could get lost on the moors!

In Recent Years

Since 1997 a variety of groups from various backgrounds have been focusing on Thorne and Hatfield Moors. There have been numerous Leeds Friends Of the Earth (FoE) events in Thorne and on Thorne Moors, involving street theatre and petitions. On Good Friday 1998 FoE organised an action touring garden centres with costumes, banners, placards and leaflets. Leeds FoE have held annual garden centre pickets every Easter Bank holiday (a weekend when gardeners buy vast amounts of peat-based products). During the summer of 1999 the Wildlife Trusts joined FoE in holding public meetings to raise awareness and campaign for new wildlife legislation. In 1999 the government was persuaded to conduct an inquiry into English Nature and FoE drew up a table of the Peat Free status of local authorities. Other groups, such as the Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum, and individuals have undertaken all sorts of campaigning including writing articles, sending letters to MPs and to Scotts, lobbying parliament and doing talks at local primary schools.

EF! Off!

During the summer of 2001 northern EF! groups began building up support for the campaign and trying to limit the amount of peat extracted.

An action was organised every month with three in August. They ranged from small unannounced autonomous actions to big well-advertised ones. Some were designed to stop work at the factory, while others were trespasses onto the moor. A whole range of different activities occurred from a kid's ceilidh, playing frisbee, shutting down the works, stopping cutting, filling in drainage ditches, stealing keys from machines, damaging the back-up generator, shutting down the processing computer, sabotaging machines, putting sand in the train engines, digging up the railway track and derailing the trains (you can derail the trains by chasing them - they can't go very fast on the unstable peat and above a certain speed they wobble and fall over!). All this occurred without a single arrest, although we did have a memorable game of chicken with the police helicopter.

An action was planned to coincide with the EF! Gathering at the start of August. A group of about 30 people headed off to the peat works after the action was announced in the morning meeting. When we arrived, police (with horses) had occupied the works. Speaking to workers after the event we were told that the police had claimed that 100 violent anarchists had planned to come and destroy the works. We were told that the police shut down the works for 3 days and left over 200 officers there for the whole of that period. This must have been as a result of an advert deliberately posted on the gathering blackboard, announcing that we would be going back on the Monday after the gathering, despite there being no intention to do this! This was probably our most successful action so far!

There was also some night time action over the summer, including plenty of ditch filling and re-routing pumping equipment onto a track to create a mire impassable for their machines. Peat Alert! was born in autumn 2001. It was becoming clear that saving Thorne and Hatfield, the two largest raised mires in the UK, could lead to more rapid destruction for other peat lands, in the UK and abroad, so we extended our focus to reflect our ultimate aim; a complete end to peat use.

February 2002: Scotts Targeted Across the Country

In 2002 we decided to up the ante and our first action targeted all the Scotts sites in the country in one day on February 18th.

Godalming, Surrey
Head Office: Around 20 people went into the offices for about an hour and a half before police with dogs arrived and people left. Most of the office was closed down and the front doors were locked with D-locks. 15 people were arrested for burglary and released at 3am without charge, since dropped.
Corwen, North Wales
PBI Home and Garden fertiliser and pesticides manufacturing plant: 13 activists arrived early in the morning, occupied the office and the factory floor and hung a banner overlooking the A5. The gates were temporarily locked shut. After a couple of hours hanging around getting in the way, more police showed up and people left, leaving one pretty pissed-off manager who claimed to be missing a back-up computer disc.
Bramford, near Ipswich, Suffolk
Scotts fertiliser plant: A group of 15 activists arrived at Scotts Fertiliser plant at 9am, but security guards were just securing the site after being notified of the Corwen action two minutes before. Four people got into offices with varying levels of success. Outside the entrance gate an activist D-locked themselves to a lorry as it pulled up, starting a tail back, which had up to twenty lorries in it with many more being turned away. The blockade lasted for 3 hours before police arrested five people for aggravated trespass and obstruction of the highway. Arriving at the site just after us was the director of the international fertiliser division, Eric von Karthoven, who had travelled over from Holland for a meeting. He was thoroughly grilled by campaign members.
Hatfield Moor, South Yorkshire
Scotts peat extraction: 15 activists spent the day carrying out conservation work on the moor, including filling in drainage ditches to prevent the moors drying out. There were no police, so they just got on with it and left the moor around 5pm. They then went to the front gates and stopped work in the factory for about half an hour, leaving before the police turned up.
Wedholme Flow, Cumbria
Scotts peat extraction: About 10 people spent the day on the bog, building dams to interfere with Scotts' attempt to drain the land ready for harvesting in the spring.
Goole, East Yorkshire
Scotts fertiliser and pesticide manufacturing facility: At around 11.30 two women entered the offices, staying only to send a fax to Nick Kirkbride, UK Managing Director at the Head Office in Godalming, announcing their presence and opposition to Scotts involvement in peat extraction. At the same time a set of gates were locked shut by other activists.

Easter Blockade 2002

The week leading up to Easter usually sees a massive amount of lorry movement, as peat is distributed from the works in time for the bank holiday weekend. An action camp for the 4-day blockade was planned for nearby. Before the site was taken, both night time and day time actions on Hatfield Moor had been taking place, filling in ditches and blocking pipes to stop the peat drying out, plus other sabotage actions on the moors and at the works. At a bail hearing during the peat blockade, it was made known to the court that bags of peat stored at the Hatfield Moor peatworks had been slashed earlier in March, causing damage to stock worth over £30,000 (Scotts estimate).[22]

The campsite was a fortress! The site was an old RAF base and many things remained from its Ministry of Defence days including barbed wire fences and barricades, but we had our own four flags flying from the old radar tower. Before the blockade began, Scotts rang other campaigners to see if there was anything they could do to forestall it. One of the major objectives was to prevent lorries loaded with processed peat from leaving the plant. The whole week was heavily policed and both a Section 60 (stop, search, demask) and a section 14 (designated protest area only) were in place and police also managed to find lock-on equipment and a tripod hidden in ditches. Despite this, on day one about 100 people managed to block the access road as planned. After two and a half hours, however, 18 vans of riot cops moved in and arrested everyone who stayed in the road. On day two, Friends of the Earth held a demo in front of the works. Despite people being prevented from reaching the works, many lorries were prevented from leaving by the unnerved police! Smaller groups of people were also out on the moors ditch filling. We tatted down on Thursday, after a beautiful few days in the sun and fresh air. The week seriously disrupted their operations, massively reducing the amount of peat lorries leaving, costing the police a lot of money, showing new people the moors and achieving high levels of local support.

Later on 1st May one of the two power lines supplying the works was chopped down. An anonymous tip off received by Peat Alert! stated that a small group of people visited Hatfield peat works at night. They attempted to bring down the two power lines that provide electricity to the works. One of the support posts for one of the power lines was successfully brought down, but unfortunately the other line proved to be indestructable. However, with limited power, major disruption was caused to their operation.

On 11th May another trespass was held on the moor and then on July 10th Peat Alert! received information that digging equipment was disabled and protective plastic on peat stacks was destroyed at Bolton Fell in Cumbria. Notices demanding an end to peat extraction were prominently displayed.

The 11th May trespass was held in memory of Benny Rothman who led the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932 and then 60 years later spoke at the mass injunction-breaking trespass at Twyford Down in 1993. He died on January 23rd 2002 after a lifetime of campaigning for countryside access, and pensioners and worker's rights. He was described as "a political and environmental workaholic."

Another Week of Action in August

Diggers, dams and damage sums up a successful week of action against Peat extraction comprising six days, ten actions, over £100,000 of damage and only 5 arrests to prevent a breach of the peace. On Sunday 26th August a mass trespass was organised from the Northern Green Gathering. Thirty people, many of whom had never seen Hatfield, trespassed on the moor. Work was stopped and machines taken off the moor. A lot of ditch filling happened, and various sheets used to protect the stockpiled peat were cut.

On the Wednesday a small group of people met up on the way to Leeds, trespassed on the moor and did some ditch filling. However the recent rain and a lot of previous ditch filling meant a lot of the moor was flooded and we had problems finding ditches to fill! This is a great success as a flooded moor prevents both peat decomposition and Scott's ability to get machines on the moor and extract the peat.

The following day we visited Crowle Moor, on the eastern edge of Thorne Moors just north of Hatfield. We met up with a local campaigner who has been trying to protect Crowle moor from illegal peat extraction and flytipping. Crowle Moor was bought from Levingtons in 1992 by English Nature to prevent peat extraction, and given to Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust to set up a nature reserve. They, however, haven't stopped illegal peat extraction there, and don't seem concerned that a local family, the Crows, have mined rented land without the mineral extraction rights. When we encountered them extracting peat, we stopped work and climbed on their machinery. A stand-off ensued until they promised to take their machines off the land if we left, and as it was gone five we did. We also were fortunate enough to visit one of the few remaining examples of untouched peat bog in this country.

On Friday we travelled the distance up to Cumbria to visit L&P Peat, who mine Solway Moss for Humax compost, used for mushroom growing. Solway Moss is a site the government wants to submit for Special Area of Conservation status to Europe, however L&P Peat have threatened to take the government to judicial review if they do, preventing any of the peat sites being submitted. So we decided to let them know of our existence and what we thought of this.

A group of five people visited their office in Carlisle, to find info and demand they stop mining Solway Moss, withdraw their planning application to expand their works at Solway and withdraw their threat of judicial review. The police arrived within minutes and arrested the five to prevent a breach of the peace.

A much larger group went to visit Solway Moss, with the intention of stopping work. We were also met with the threat of violence, but managed to lock the gates shut and lose the keys. We then decided to leave, treating the action as a warning shot and first site recce.

On Saturday 31st August a group went to Hatfield peat works with the intention of stopping work. However, due to the recent rain and bank holiday they weren't processing peat and were just repairing machines. A quick run round the site caused damage to bags of fertiliser supplies, the losing of keys, gluing shut of control panels with liquid metal, slashing of peat bags, dropping of metal into piles of peat (which will set off alarms as they go into the process, stopping it until they have found them all) and the recovery of internal Scotts documents.

Another group went back to Crowle Moor. Stopping off at the Crow family peat works, tyres were let down and valves broken before heading off onto the moor. Left alone with a digger for about a minute before the police followed, aluminium dust was poured into the fuel supply, which will cause the engine to seize up next time it is used. Then people played around on the moor stopping work for the rest of the day and ditch filling.

Peat Alert! received an anonymous communiqué that on Saturday evening a group of people visited Hatfield Peat Works and committed over £100,000 worth of damage by slashing the bags of the stocks of peat.

Finally on the Sunday we visited Tickhill garden centre near Doncaster, which uses peat from Hatfield Moor. Every area of the centre was stickered, flyers were placed on all windscreens in the car park and were handed out to customers.

In all, the week was considered a massive success and gave a big boost to the peat campaign.

More Sabotage

Peat Alert! received a communiqué stating that in early November a night time visit occurred at Solway Moss. In one night all of the

"We try to bring harmony to peat harvesting. We see that as conservation, not devastation. The people who are knowledgeable about it are really impressed about the way peat is extracted in the UK." - Charles Berger, President of Scotts, in 'For Peat's Sake', Geographical magazine, August 1999.

peat cutting machinery and all the vehicles in the works, about 15 in total, were seriously damaged. L&P Peat's stock of peat was also visited that night with about a quarter of their stock slashed.

Also on the same night, Bolton Fell, a peat bog owned and worked by William Sinclair Ltd., was visited and three of their peat cutting machines sabotaged.

Both of these sites are candidate SAC sites, but the companies are both threatening to take the government to judicial review if they are submitted. These actions were carried out because of the companies' refusal to allow SAC status to proceed and because both companies are expanding in the peat industry.

As part of the need to refocus our actions on other companies like these and not just Scotts, Bolton Fell peat stripping site was visited on Sunday 14 December 2002. The works was very busy but the fields were wet and empty. Drainpipes were blocked with bags of peat, a footbridge was pushed into a drainage ditch and a small railway bridge was dismantled.

There will be more actions continuing with another big push over the summer cutting season. If you wish to get involved with the peat campaign, or for more information on resistance to peat extraction, contact: Peat Alert! c/o CRC, 16 Sholebroke Avenue, Leeds LS6 3HB. Telephone: 0113 262 9365 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Web: http://www.peatalert.org.uk/.

Jargon Buster

SSSI
Site of Special Scientific Interest, UK legislation, empowers the wildlife agencies to ensure the sites are well-managed and protected from damaging activities - although this is somewhat meaningless as it gives no power to revoke extant planning permissions. Owners must give three months notice of "damaging operations", which English Nature can then decided to act on - or not.
SPA
Special Protection Area, EU Birds Directive (1979), and...
SAC
Special Area of Conservation, EU Habitats and Species Directive (1994). Both have the power to override old planning permissions, and are therefore somewhat more useful. In fact, SAC requires a review of all planning permissions which may affect the habitat.
pSAC
proposed SAC - the point where English Nature has proposed it, but the government hasn't yet submitted it to Europe.
cSAC
candidate SAC - the point where the government has submitted it, but the European Commission hasn't yet awarded the designation. However, planning authorities must treat cSACs as if they were SACs.

The Future for Hatfield Moor and Thorne Moors

In her book, Thorne Moors, written in 1991, before the Agreement and various protections had been awarded, Catherine Caufield wrote:

"There are many species that the total reserves are too small to support in viable numbers including birds of prey such as merlins and hen harriers, which rely on the moors as a winter habitat, and the northern eggar moth, which requires a square mile of peat land to forage over. Nor are the reserves representative of the full range of habitats on Thorne Moors. Several of the most important habitats on the moors are unprotected and are scheduled for complete elimination within the next five years. 'The raft spider's habitat will disappear from the moors within a year, according to Fisons' cutting plans,' Brian Eversham (Wildlife Trusts/Co-chair of THMCF) says. In addition, the reserves, though they are not being drained themselves, are threatened by drainage elsewhere. So far, no way has been discovered to maintain the high water tables they need to survive while the land all around them is being drained."

"No peat bog in Britain has been successfully restored and the experience of peat-restoration projects elsewhere is not encouraging. In the early 1980s, after spending £33million on an attempt to restore five tiny parcels of bog, at a cost of £2 million per square metre, Dutch conservationists decided that it made more sense to protect unspoiled bogs. Since all Holland's peat bogs have already been destroyed, Dutch conservation groups have bought several of Ireland's most severely threatened peat bogs."

Although some progress has now been made in restoration techniques, the future on Hatfield Moor must be considered less favourably still. Most of Hatfield is now about 10 square miles of bare peat, cut from the living bog surface right down to the original fen moss. There are some refugia around the edges of this barren area, as well as Lindholme Island in the middle, but massive human intervention is needed to translocate appropriate flora and fauna to those places where wild nature simply would not reach on its own - or where natural processes would not tend towards bog formation.

Notes

1) Sue Wheat, 'For Peat's Sake', Geographical, August 1999

2) Commission of Inquiry into Peat and Peatlands: Commissioners Report (Plantlife, London, 1992)

3) Guidelines for Selection of Biological SSSIs (NCC, Peterborough, 1989)

4) Thorne Moors by Catherine Caufield (The Sumach Press, 1991)

5) Sue Wheat, 'For Peat's Sake', Geographical, August 1999

6) RSPB and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Deciding the Future of Thorne and Hatfield Moors, An English Wilderness (Peatlands Campaign Consortium, Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum, Sandy, Beds, 1997)

7) J. Barkham, For Peat's Sake: Conservation or Exploitation, Science Festival 1992 (British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992)

8) J. Barkham, For Peat's Sake: Conservation or Exploitation, Science Festival 1992 (British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1992)

9) Counterpart Lease, Moors Management Agreement

10) 'For Peat's Sake', Geographical, August 1999

11) 'For Peat's Sake', Geographical, August 1999

12) Special Protection Area, EU Birds Directive (1979), and Special Area of Conservation, EU Habitats and Species Directive (1994). Both have the power to override old planning permissions, and are therefore somewhat more useful than Site of Special Scientific Interest. In fact, SAC requires a review of all planning permissions which may affect the habitat.

13) 'Salvation or Sell-out', Natural World Magazine, No. 34, Spring/Summer 1992

14) English Nature's Annual Report 1995-1996

15) In British legislation a Site of Special Scientific Interest empowers the wildlife agencies to ensure the site is well-managed and protected from damaging activities - although this is somewhat meaningless as it gives no power to revoke extant planning permissions. Owners must give three months notice of "damaging operations", which English Nature can then decided to act on - or not.

16) Admitted by an English Nature representative at a Thorne public meeting, October 1997.

17) Personal communication.

18) PPA web-site: http:/www.peatproducers.co.uk/sac.html

19) Calculation is based on figures provided by English Nature in their 'Rehabilitation' proposals submitted to DMBC, also included in the new Agreement.

20) See: http://www.peatproducers.co.uk/useandconserv.html

21) See: http://bulletin.rec.org/bull104/gardeners.html

22) At a blockade bail hearing, 26th March 2002.

 

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