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17 September 2014
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Heathland - Thorne and Hatfield Moors

Peatland habitat

Thorne Moor c/o Natural England and Peter Raworth

Thorne Moor in Yorkshire is being restored as a heathland habitat. This peatland has everything that a Dragonfly needs. In fact it's one of the best places in the North to see these creatures.

Rare raised bog. Photo - Natural England/Peter Raworth.

Thorne Moor forms part of the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve which is the largest area of raised bog wilderness in lowland Britain.

This moorland area is a great place to see rare plants, insects, birds and animals.

Peat and bogs

Thorne Moor c/o peter Roworth and Natural EnglandThe moor was formed from the remnants of wetland that occupied the floodplain of the Humberhead Levels thousands of years ago.

At one time the area was covered by woodland but this was cleared by prehistoric man.


William Bunting (1916-1995) , an amateur naturalist, worked tirelessly to save what remains of Thorpe Moors.

He campaigned vigorously against peat extraction and fronted a group called Bunting's Beavers.


The 'Beavers' blocked drains which threatened to lower the area's water table to a dangerously low level.

This, together with climate change, led to the gradual formation of the deep layer of peat which now covers the area.

Peat extraction was of major significance in medieval times involving the labour intensive practice of digging peat by hand.

In the 1960s production of peat for horticultural purposes was mechanised, and this continued until 2004.

The moor was acquired by English Nature as a Site of Special Scientific Interest - it started 'rewetting' work, designed to restore the wetland to its original condition.

As part of the restoration work peat-forming bog species, including Sphagnum mosses and Cottongrasses, have been actively encouraged.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Large Heath Butterfly (Image: Natural England and Peter Roworth)Thorne Moor's restoration has stimulated the local Dragonfly population and there are now 20 different species of Dragon and Damselfly to be found.

This area of peatland has everything that a Dragonfly needs - there's plenty of still water where it can lay its eggs and there's loads of other insects to eat.

Amongst the many Dragonflies is the Southern Hawker - one of our largest Dragonflies.

As its name suggests they're mainly found in the South of England, but now they're slowly spreading North.

Also look out for some unusual butterflies including the Large Heath Butterfly.

Reptiles and birds

Adder (Image: Natural England and Peter Wakely) The moors are also a northern stronghold for the Adder, but seeing them requires stealth because they are secretive creatures.

It's hard to obtain accurate records - but surveys show that there are several hundred Adders on the moors, making Thorne Moor something of an Adder hot spot.

The best time to see the Adders is during the spring and summer because they hibernate from early October.

They're often to be seen basking on pathways on warm days before slithering off into the undergrowth.

Look out for their striking zig-zag markings.

The "goatsucker" bird

NightjarThe moors are an internationally important breeding site for one our weirdest birds - the Nightjar.

In fact it's so strange that its scientific name means "goatsucker".

The bird's half-bird half- log shape makes it hard to spot because it's perfectly camouflaged to conceal itself.

You're more likely to hear these birds before you see them - and their sound is unusual to say the least.

Its strange churring call led to the bird being nicknamed "gabble ratchet" in Yorkshire.

Thorne Moor is also a stronghold for the Nightingale which migrates to the area in April from Africa - listen out for its melodic song in spring and early summer.

Photo credits

Thorne c/o Natural England and Peter WakelyThorne Moor images courtesy and copyright of Natural England, Peter Raworth and Peter Wakely.

Large Heath Butterfly copyright of Natural England and Peter Roworth.



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