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Geography

Making space for water

Making Space for Water is one of three pilot projects to receive a total of £1 million of Defra funding to demonstrate how natural resources can help protect against flooding, as part of a wider initiative to help communities adapt to changing flood risk in the face of climate change.

The Upland Environments Research Unit (UpERU) is working with Moors for the Future on one of the demonstration projects: the monitoring and assessment of moorland restoration.

The Upper Derwent catchment, located within the Peak District National Park is a peatland landscape highly productive of runoff. The upland blanket peats that make up these headwater catchments are heavily degraded, which negatively impacts the landscape’s ability to store water and attenuate flow. Degradation therefore has the potential to enhance downstream flood risks. The restoration of eroding peatlands in Peak District National Park has been a major conservation concern over the last decade, and measures have been taken to control erosion and restore large areas of degraded peat.

The Making Space for Water Project demonstrates how practical restoration of degraded moorland can reduce and modify the hydrology of the peatland, and explores whether there are potential benefits for reduced downstream flood risk. A detailed programme has been established to monitor the hydrological effects of peat restoration by re-vegetation and gully blocking.

The programme tests the hypothesis that peatland restoration will alter runoff generation processes resulting in smaller storm-flow peaks and increased hydrological lag times. This has been achieved through intensive investigation of the link between runoff production and the timing and magnitude of runoff delivery at key research catchments, in conjunction with a more extensive study of water table and surface runoff production across the landscape.

Project partners

Prof Tim Allott, Prof Martin Evans, Prof Clive Agnew and Dr Emma Shuttleworth of UpERU have led the monitoring campaign, and are working in collaboration with Dr David Milledge (Durham University), the Moors for the Future Partnership, Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust, Natural England, Environment Agency and Defra.

Key findings

To date the project has shown that moorland restoration has had a significant impact on runoff hydrology. Water tables have risen by 35 mm, peak storm discharge is reduced by 35 %, and lag times have increased by an average 28 minutes. Ongoing modelling work will attempt to upscale these results to larger catchment scales.

Further information

The project has been running since 2010. A progress report is available below:

The field campaign ended in 2014, and data analysis is ongoing. The project will culminate in a conference to be held at The University of Manchester in April 2015, and the final report will be released later in 2015.