A major milestone is being celebrated by the Forestry Commission as part of its project to restore a fragile upland bog on the North York Moors.
May Moss, in Landale Forest near Fylingdales, is thought to be nearly 9,000 years old and experts say it is a key habitat for plants, birds and insects.
Now work to remove 170,000 conifers from the site has been completed using a £170,000 grant from the SITA Trust along with backing from the North York Moors National Park Authority.
The trees were planted in the 20th century to tackle the nation’s timber shortages following two world wars. However they were sucking moisture from the ground and slowly drying out the ancient habitat.
Now the bog has been given a new lease of life, boosting plants like sphagnum moss, cotton grass and bog rosemary, along with dragonflies.
Brian Hicks, Forestry Commission ecologist, said: “We have restored 150 hectares of the bog, twice as much as originally planned, by removing trees and blocking drainage channels to help the site retain rain water.
“The signs are encouraging with the return of vegetation to areas cleared of trees. Despite appearances this is a living habitat with about a metre of new peat being laid down every 1,000 years.
“Bogs may not have the profile of rainforests or ancient woods, but ecologically they are just as important.”
Specialist equipment which can mulch a tree in a few seconds was deployed in some parts of May Moss, whilst conventional mechanised harvesters were also used.
Further ditch blocking work is being done by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership, and vegetation surveys are being undertaken by North York Moors National Park volunteers under the guidance of the York-based PLACE Education and Research Centre. Mr Hicks added: “Another major gain from restoring May Moss is that it is acting like a giant sponge, retaining water for longer and alleviating the severity of flooding downstream in vulnerable areas.”