Over the last couple of weeks, a new set of monitoring equipment has been installed at the Water Works project site in East Anglia, by our Eyes on the Bog Champion, Jack Clough of the University of East London.
The site is the newest edition to the Eyes on the Bog (EoB) monitoring initiative. The Eyes on the Bog method is designed to provide a low tech, scientifically robust and repeatable approach to long-term peatland monitoring. Jack takes us through the process of setting up an EoB site:
Making use of lockdown, and time spent at home, I have been constructing all the necessary monitoring equipment. This mostly involves assembling a curious array of blue markers.
Firstly, there are Surface level markers. These act as miniature Holme fen posts, and provide a fixed reference point to assess peat depth from in future. At the Water Works site the peat is around 3m deep, so lots of extension rods were needed too. Once assembled the Surface Level Markers were painted bright blue using Noxyde paint. Noxyde Blue is a chemically inert, rust proof paint that will extend the lifetime of the Surface level markers, ensuring that they can be used for years to come. Measurements will be taken at a frequency of 6 – 12 months to monitor the surface level change across the Water Works site.
Rust Rods were also assembled. These are a cheap, but effective way of monitoring long-term peat water table change. Rust Rods are a 1m length of mild steel rod, with a washer attached at the top. The rods are painted in the Blue Noxyde paint, and then a bright shiny flat face is made on one side of the rod using an angle grinder or hand file (remember to wear your PPE!). The shiny face is important, as over time, the shiny face will rust in areas of aerated peat (above the water table) and will remain shiny in the waterlogged peat (below the water table). This will give us data on the lowest water table position since the last measurement. We expect that results can be taken every 3 months, giving us a broad overview of water table behaviour across the site.
Once all the kit had been assembled it was time to get out on site. I had about 50 surface level markers and 50 Rust rods to install across the various test beds. Luckily the monitoring kit, and the required tools were easily portable and could be carried across the site by hand. However, being able to drive my car (carefully) up to the test plots made a nice change to the long walks across remote peatlands that I’m used to!
Installation of the Eyes on the Bog monitoring equipment is very straightforward. I chose a location for a Surface level marker and took a peat depth (again wearing PPE – sturdy gloves are a must). Once the peat depth and GPS position were recorded, I measured and cut the lower most extension rod to size using a pair of bolt cutters. This was inserted into the peat, before extra extension rods were added. Extra extension rods were inserted into the peat 1m at a time and connected to each other using connectors. The last piece to add was the top 1m section of painted Surface level marker. Once this was attached, the completed surface level marker was driven through the peat until the washer at the top was flush with the peat surface and anchored securely into the clay/mineral layers below. This will keep the SLM fixed in position, allowing for measurements in future.
Every Surface Level Marker needs a Rust rod associated with it so that the combined picture of water level and surface movement is obtained. However, The Rust Rods are quicker to install so this Is not a huge task. The Rust rods are sunk into the peat until the washer is level with the peat surface, their position recorded, and any notes are made.
A final task at the Rust Rod location is to take a Von Post test. The Von post test provides information on how decomposed the peat is on a 1 – 10 scale. 1 is fresh new vegetation in a growing peatland, while 10 is entirely decomposed. Over time we hope to see the peat at restoration sites move from the decomposed end of the scale (>6) to the less decomposed end (>6). I won’t lie to you; this is a messy job! You must dig down into the peat and take a small handful from about wrist depth. The peat is then squeezed in the palm of your hand and you make judgements about the liquid that is squeezed out, the amount of peat squeezed out, and the nature of the material left behind.
I took plenty of mobile phone photos, with my GPS tagging enabled. This will allow us to monitor fixed points and see how they change in future as the Water Works site develops. I’ll also be going back as soon as I can to take some 360 photos with our Ricoh Theta VR camera.
Overall the Eyes on the Bog method should tell us if the peat is accumulating (brilliant) staying the same (not bad) or being lost (bad). It will also give us an idea of how the water table behaves across the different wetland farming plots, and how the peat Is responding to management changes. We can’t wait to see what we find out.
We also aim to host all the data on the newly launched Eyes on the Bog section of the Peat Data Hub. This will be a great long term repository for the data, but also allow for data sharing so all the Eyes on the bog sites can learn from each other as uptake increases.
The Eyes on the Bog method is now being rolled out across peatland sites across the UK and is designed for Citizen Scientists, members of the public and even funded projects. So, who knows, you might start seeing more curious blue markers near you soon!
Learn more and get involved with the Eyes on the Bog initiative
Water Works is a three-year project aiming to look at ways to develop a more sustainable future for fenland resources – its soil, water and people. Through the project we are trialling new farming methods designed to protect our precious peat soils and water resources, by using new science and technology to develop and monitor these techniques and by applying for UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status to support and unite people to create a thriving fenland economy and countryside.
The Water Works project is a partnership between the Wildlife Trust Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire; Cambridgeshire ACRE, The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the University of East London and is funded by a grant awarded in 2019 by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund: a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.