CONSERVATIONISTS are planning to restore peat bogs on Ilkley Moor in a bid to combat climate change and flooding.

Restoring the peat bogs is the single most effective measure to help the town become carbon neutral, according to the Friends of Ilkley Moor.

Chairman Owen Wells stressed the importance of the bogs at a meeting of Ilkley Town Council. He said they had been storing carbon for thousands of years and could continue to do so indefinitely. They can also act like a sponge, soaking up excess rain and preventing water run off into the valley - which in turn would help prevent flooding and the discharge of raw sewage into the River Wharfe.

After the meeting Mr Wells said: “So far as the aim of making Ilkley carbon neutral is concerned, there is nothing that will be as effective as restoring the peat bogs on the Moor. The peat bogs on the Moor have been storing carbon for the past 11,000 years. If we can restore them to health, they will continue to capture carbon and could do so for another 11,000 years.”

He said: “For peat bogs to thrive, they need water. In many ways, sphagnum bogs act like a huge sponge, able to retain vast quantities of water. During the last 100 years ‘agricultural improvement’ led to the digging of drainage ditches on moors, leading them to dry out, and hence stopping peat bogs from growing. We are now intending to reverse that, by blocking the drainage ditches - or ‘grips’.

“ Restoring peat bogs is an uncertain process. As I understand it, only about 50 per cent of such projects are successful, thus, FoIM wants to start work restoring Crawshaw Moss, where there is a healthy sphagnum bog, as we think the likelihood of getting this bog to grow and expand is a much safer bet. Then we want to go on to Hebers Moss, where there is a very small amount of sphagnum, to see if we can get that bog back. It was a healthy peat bog 100 years ago, when sphagnum was harvested there for use as wound dressings in the 1st World War.”

He added: “Yorkshire Water have stated that Ilkley Sewage Works could cater for all the foul water produced by houses in Ilkley, plus proposed developments, if it was not for run-off from the surrounding hills going into the sewage system. This, they claim is the cause of the discharge of raw sewage into the river. So if we can reduce run-off we should reduce the ‘storm discharges’ into the Wharfe.”

Mr Wells said figures from Severn Trent Water show that for every £1 spent on peat bog restoration in the Peak District the company saves £11 on water treatment.

He said the Moors for the Future partenership now had a contract to install natural flood management on Backstone Beck and to plant five peat plugs where the beck originates. FoIM wants to get Moors for the Future involved in similar work on Black Beck which drains Hebers Moss and Crawshaw Moss.