A peatland in Eden

Where would your peatland Eden be? A small, secluded peatland nestled into a low saddle of the Japanese Alps? An isolated, hummocky bank of frozen moss surrounded by clattering, cracking icebergs on the Antarctic Peninsula?  The high, exposed blanket peatland landscapes of Dartmoor in the UK? Or a rugged, red lawn of wind-rippled moss with mountains for neighbours in Patagonia? At times, each and every one of these places has felt like our peatland Eden as we have been lucky enough to travel the boggy world. (And yes, we really do consider Dartmoor to be as special as all these other places!) But a couple of weeks ago, our peatland Eden was just that – a peatland, at Eden. The Eden Project, in Cornwall, to be precise.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the Eden Project, it is a unique visitor attraction in southwest England – its site, an abandoned china clay quarry, was transformed from an exhausted, rocky pit to, well, a horticultural Eden, by the addition of two huge geodesic domed biomes that simulate a tropical rainforest and a Mediterranean landscape. Once these are  coupled with a huge outdoor biome that homes plants from the world’s temperate regions, a concert venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in music, an educational charity and, in the past couple of months an Eden degree course, you have something more approaching a phenomenon than a mere tourist attraction.

So where does Bogology come into this, I’m sure you’re wondering? The Eden estate is not restricted to the area of the old clay works, but covers 260 acres of land surrounding it, and within those vast tracts, nestles a fragment of peatland. For some time, staff at Eden have had their eye on this little gem, aware of its potential importance in terms of biodiversity and as an educational resource, but unsure how to develop it. So, thanks to a collaboration between the University of Exeter, where Tom and I work, and the Eden Project, us Bogologists and members of the Eden team came together and formed a plan to find out more.

This, in a round-about way, is how we came to be on our peatland Eden recently. As part of our successful funding bid we will carry out a belt and braces assessment of the past and present of this small peatland’s history and current health, with an eye to helping it fulfil its future potential. We teamed up with some other Exeter colleagues who specialise in peatland restoration and monitoring and headed on the 90 minute journey on a sunny morning in early October, as the south-west experienced something of an Indian summer. Tom, myself and our colleague Mark took care of the past – depth probing across the site to find its deepest spot whilst assessing general changes in its stratigraphy before taking a core that we will date and analyse using a range of methods to reconstruct a ‘History of Eden’. Our colleagues Dave and Naomi took care of the present – using a terrestrial laser scanner and differential GPS system to develop a detailed model of the peatland to understand its hydrological functioning. Dave and Naomi had also planned to employ a UAV – or unmanned aerial vehicle – to fly over the site and take aerial photos. Complicated regulations meant that in the end, we decided to switch to a kite to do the same thing. And on a windless day of fieldwork, they proved themselves ever inventive and never defeated in the aims of science by employing the world’s largest selfie stick!

When all of this data is developed and put together over the coming months, it will provide a unique insight into the site that tells the story of its past, assesses its present condition and makes recommendations about its future. So, in years to come, if or when you happen to visit the Eden Project, as a member of the public or on a school or college educational trip, remember to look out for and ask about Eden’s peatland Eden!

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