‘Coir from Sri Lanka??’ Was the question (or was it an incredulous statement?) from readers after local and regional news providers reported the Fleet Moss peatland restoration story last week. Can coir from Sri Lanka be environmentally-friendly? Why not use wool?
Nearly 15,000 metre-long coir logs (think super-sized grouse droppings) are being used on the Fleet Moss, Oughtershaw and Bleaberry peatlands. The logs are manufactured in the UK from bales of coconut husk imported by a company which has built up relationships with small scale Sri Lankan farmers. Husk is to coconut flesh as whey is to curd – a byproduct.
The coir logs are being staked across erosion channels. They are having a near instantaneous impact, helping to keep peat and water on the moor. By cutting the amount of sediment (i.e pollution) being washed into streams and rivers (Ure and Wharfe), the logs are helping cut water companies’ clean-up costs. By helping to slow the flow of water off the moors, they are helping lower flood peaks in villages, towns and cities downstream.
The project to restore Fleet Moss could be seen as ‘carbon negative’. Over time way more carbon will be saved from being emitted from the bog, or sequestered by a restored bog, than will have been emitted through the importation of the coir and the transportion of the logs (and other materials) to site.
The key point to understand is that doing nothing would result in the Fleet Moss peatland emitting carbon dioxide, which is rather like a bad joke. Any degraded peat bog – and they do not come more degraded than Fleet Moss in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – releases a great deal of carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon that currently comes off eroded peatland is estimated to be 10 million tonnes per year in the UK.
The coir on Fleet Moss has, on its own, helped areas to revegetate naturally within only a couple of years of being installed. A revegetated Fleet Moss will mean the bog will no longer emit carbon dioxide but will sequester carbon on a grand scale.
All this said, it is accepted that depending on Sri Lankan coconuts to fix a bog in North Yorkshire is not ideal. The Yorkshire Peat Partnership has been working for more than a year on a project that could lead to an alternative to coir being used – and this may well involve wool. There are issues with using wool. Wool must be untreated or it will pollute the surrounding water courses, yet Animal and Plant Health Agency regulations do not permit the use of untreated wool, on grounds of reducing the risk of spreading diseases. The biggest issue, though, is that early experiments have shown that on its own, wool is not very successful in damming areas or collecting sediment. The Yorkshire Peat Partnership still thinks wool has real potential in peatland restoration. It is working closely with a local organisation to see if a solution can be found, and the aim is very much to support local farmers and use local materials.
Meanwhile, the coconut farmers of Sri Lanka deserve our thanks, for the byproduct of the fruit that they are producing is helping us tackle the very serious and urgent problems on peat moorlands in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
One of the 49 objectives of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan 2019-2024 is ‘to restore, by 2030, all degraded blanket bog/deep peat habitat to ecologically and hydrologically functioning bog that is actively sequestering and storing carbon, and is being managed sustainably’ (objective D3).
*** Note: Thanks to Jenny at Yorkshire Peat Partnership for providing information.