Lindow Moss

Lindow Moss is one of the largest lowland peatlands in Cheshire, shown clearly on Burdett’s 1777 map of Cheshire as Lindow Common. In 1984 Lindow Moss came to international prominence with the discovery of an almost intact Iron Age bog body – Lindow Man. This is said to be one of the most visited exhibits in the British Museum.

Today, the term Lindow Moss is used in two ways:

  1. the wider landscape, from Row of Trees in the south to Morley Green in the north, and from Lindow Common in the east to Moss lane, Mobberley in the west. This area, which broadly matches the extensive area shown on Burdett’s 1777 map, has been consistently mapped as the Lindow Moss Landscape Character Area (Cheshire County Council, 2008; Cheshire East Council, 2018; and Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan, 2019). It’s helpful to define this wider area as Lindow Moss LCA.

  2. the cutover peat bog, divided almost equally between Wilmslow and Mobberley, which includes the findspot of Lindow Man. This area has planning consents for peat working to 2042, with restoration conditions requiring infilling with inert waste material and restoration to agriculture for the consented areas in Wilmslow to the west and east of Rotherwood Road. In December, 2018 Cheshire East Council approved two interlinked planning applications; for 14 houses on the peat processing (Peat Farm) site and the comprehensive ecological restoration of all 28 ha (71 acres) of cutover peat bog. The housing development is conditional on restoration. This area is sometimes referred to as Saltersley Moss but to local residents who know and walk it on a regular basis it is known as Lindow Moss.

 

Landscape History

Lindow Moss LCA began life as a series of wet hollows in a sandy post-glacial landscape some 10,000 years ago. By 8,000 years ago a patchwork of wetland habitats and wet woodland had established which evolved into a slow growing mire. During the drier phase which followed the peat surface became colonised by pine trees – the huge pine stumps which we see on Lindow Moss today are at least 4,000 years old. Conditions then became much wetter, unsuitable for pine, and eventually the bog surface became colonised by fast growing Sphagnum moss. Sphagnum has the ability to conduct and hold water and to grow above the water table as a self-sustaining, rain nourished mire – a raised bog.  The landscape would have been characterised by a series of dome shaped ‘raised mosses’, most notably at Lindow Moss itself, and it was here that Lindow Man was entombed almost 2000 years ago. The sandy soils of the surrounding land began as light woodland which ‘degraded’ to heathland through agricultural use - Lindow Common SSSI is a surviving fragment of the lowland heath; heather dominated with a characteristic and distinctive flora and fauna.

 

Peat Bogs were revered by Iron Age people but in Medieval England they took on a new importance as a source of fuel and bedding for animals. For many centuries peat was cut in an organised manner by householders in rectilinear fields known as ‘moss rooms’. The moss room system was particularly well developed in Cheshire and goes back at least 700 years. Peat was a valuable resource and no less than five Townships had a slice of the Moss. Boundary disputes were common and in 1608 an independent jury was appointed to define the boundaries of the peat beds on Lindow Common and marked out the rights of neighbouring Townships by stones, stakes and marks. In Mobberley the large peat basins between Paddock Hill and Moss Lane were worked to exhaustion – there is just a few centimetres of topsoil above the blue clay of the postglacial lake.  Today, Lindow Moss LCA is administered by Wilmslow Town Council and three Parish Councils – Mobberley, Chorley and Great Warford.

 

During the 19th century the moss rooms were successively reclaimed for agriculture, but peat working continued in an informal way. New field boundaries were established around the former moss rooms. Thus, the layout of the medieval landscape was captured by the process of enclosure. Today, the outer boundaries of Lindow Moss LCA (formerly Lindow Common) can be clearly seen on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map by the disposition of the former moss rooms. This has been described as the best example of this type of landscape in Cheshire and therefore probably in England as a whole.

 

The cultural history of the landscape has been captured in colourful detail by Matthew Hyde and Christine Pemberton in their book ‘Lindow and the Bog Warriors’ (Rex Publishing, 2002). They speak of Gypsy fairs, the Volunteer Rifle Range and those who continued to cut peat by traditional methods right through to the 1970s.

 

In the 20th century two large areas of cutover peat bog to the north of Newgate were used for landfill by domestic waste. The landfills have been restored as woodland and grassland but these habitats, valuable as they are,  have little in common with the former mossland that they replaced. They are now a Cheshire East Council nature reserve, managed by the Bollin Valley Partnership. Peat cutting became more organised in the 1950s with Roy Kirkham operating a business from his yard on Moor Lane , cutting peat to the west of that in Mobberley and Cyril Bradley cutting peat on either side of Rotherwood Road, Wilmslow and taking the peat north to his yard at the junction of Newgate and Rotherwood Road. These workings became regularised under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act by a series of planning consents between 1959 and 1967. Eventually, these two land holdings were consolidated and in 1996/97 the cut over peat workings, together with the depot on Moor Lane (the Peat Farm site) were acquired for Croghan Peat Horticulture by the current owners Mr Bond and Mr Rowland of E.J. Godwin (Peat Industries), Glastonbury.

 

Lindow Moss – the cutover peat bog

The Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan is clear about the way forward: 

‘Opportunities to bring a close to ongoing peat extraction, to facilitate the recovery of the water table and ecological restoration of the cutover peat bog at Lindow Moss will be supported. Limited residential development, restricted to the areas of former mineral infrastructure, may be introduced to facilitate such restoration and would be considered to constitute very special circumstances, where restoration is secured by a long-term legal agreement.’

In December, 2018 two interlinked planning applications by Messrs Bond and Rowland were approved by Cheshire East Council. This would involve:

  1. demolition of existing buildings and construction of 14 houses on the Peat Farm site on Moor Lane (15/0016M), and

  2.  ecological restoration of the entire cutover peat bog to a nature conservation after-use, and an end to further peat extraction, unless that is needed to achieve the restoration objectives(15/0064M).

The decision notice by Cheshire East Council was issued on February 26th, 2019. The two planning consents are tied together by a Section 106 Agreement. Housing development should take place within 3 years of this date and must be preceded by the implementation of ecological restoration.

For some time, there was no sign of progress but on June 29th this year engineering work restarted on Lindow Moss, which we are informed is a prelude to restoration. This involved the removal of loose peat which had been stacked on the peat workings. The contractors for Croghan Peat state that this peat is unsuitable for use in restoration and that clean surfaces are required for surveying, prior to drawing up detailed restoration plans for each compartment. We are hopeful that the enabling residential development on the peat farm site will soon come forward and open the way for a formal start of the restoration programme. At that point the old planning consents for peat extraction and landfill fall away.

 

However, unless and until the December 2018 planning consent has been enacted, the original planning consents from the 1960’s remain in force, subject to a new set of planning conditions established by Cheshire County Council in 2003. This followed a review of old mineral planning consents, known as a ROMP review, under the 1995 Environment Act. These consents permit peat extraction to 2042 and require that, in Wilmslow, the peat bog should then be infilled with inert waste and restored to agriculture. Such an outcome would destroy the potential for carbon capture and creation of a biodiverse, self-sustaining peatland habitat in this part of the site. If, for some reason, the December 2018 planning consents are not enacted it may be possible to revisit the 2003 planning conditions through a periodic ROMP review – that option has been available to the Minerals Planning Authority since 2018 (15 years after the original consent).

 

Meanwhile, the condition of Lindow Moss continues to deteriorate through uncontrolled discharge of water to the Sugar Brook. The ROMP required the installation of a silt trap and sluice on the main outfall to control the discharge of water and arisings from the peat working area – neither of which were implemented. In the absence of control at the outfall, the annual recharge of the water table by winter rainfall is dissipated by loss of water to the Sugar Brook, followed by desiccation as evapotranspiration sets in in the spring. A recent report by the environmental consultants Enzygo (Report to Newgate Kennels, July, 2019) emphasised that most of the hydrological monitoring points do not give a true picture of what is happening within the peat aquifer. At the one monitoring point which does so (well P05/07), we see a progressive drop in average water level by over 1m between 2007 and 2018.

 

Transition Wilmslow’s Lindow Moss Restoration Group has commissioned a further report from Enzygo on the hydrology of the Moss and the implications of continuing drawdown of the water table on the prospects for restoration. This report is expected at the end of July.

 

Full implementation of the approved restoration scheme will see restoration of the water table (subject to restrictions by Manchester Airport who are concerned about bird strike) and the establishment of a mosaic of habitats, including raised bog, fen, wet heath and woodland. However, Lindow Moss is no ordinary peat bog. The area is very well used for countryside recreation and is a green lung for the people of Wilmslow. Also, as recognised in the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan this is a landscape of historic and cultural importance. Rick Turner, the archaeologist who discovered Lindow Man has called for the find spot to be recognised and properly marked. He also emphasised the special atmosphere created by the enclosing fringing woodlands, some of which are threatened by the restoration scheme. Lindow Moss has a remarkable story to tell with 6,000 -year-old fossil pine trees, Iron Age bog bodies, a Crimean War rifle range and the history of peat cutting itself. The Neighbourhood Plan recognises the scope for landscape interpretation and education, using 21st century technology. And, ultimately, it would be good to see the site move from private hands to some form of community ownership, to ensure that the potential of this remarkable landscape is fully realised and enjoyed by future generations.

 

Planning condition 33 states that within 3 months of the implementation of this permission, a scheme to facilitate a liaison committee shall be submitted to the Minerals Planning Authority for approval. The scheme shall include a list of potential members and a chair, functions of the committee, suggested venue for meeting, frequency and mechanism for review. The reason for Condition 33 is ‘to ensure that the local community are fully engaged and informed of activities associated with this planning permission’.

 

 Lindow Moss – the wider landscape

What happens on the cutover peat bog is critical to realising the potential of the whole area, but this represents only a small part of the wider landscape as defined by the Lindow Moss Landscape Character Area[1]. The Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan has designated this area as a Landscape of Historic and Cultural Importance. This is not reflected in the Cheshire East Local Plan, so there is a need to work with the neighbouring Parish Councils, especially Mobberley, to get this principle established across the Lindow Moss LCA.

The landscape designation is very helpful in highlighting the special qualities of the area and providing a strong basis for development control, over and above what is required under Green Belt policy (c.f. Neighbourhood Plan policy TH2). However, this does not prevent the erosion of landscape character by loss of key landscape features such as the field boundaries marking the former moss rooms and the degradation of wildlife habitats. The designation of several areas as Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) in the CEC Local Plan is helpful but again, whilst this helps to control inappropriate development, it does not influence other forms of land use and landscape management. Furthermore, there are several potential wildlife sites identified in the Neighbourhood Plan (Policy NE5 and mapped at Appendix 3) which need to be surveyed and progressed towards full designation as LWS. What is needed is positive engagement with land owners and land managers to secure these assets for the future and to realise the potential of the area for recreation, education and the visitor economy. The Neighbourhood Plan has this to say at Policy A1:

'Wilmslow Town Council will seek to establish a Lindow Moss partnership with a view to conserving, restoring and interpreting the landscape as a Local Nature Improvement Area. Opportunities will be taken to bring an end to peat extraction, to restore the working area as a wetland habitat, to conserve historic features and to interpret the landscape, especially the findspot of Lindow Man, in line with Neighbourhood Plan policy TH2. This will include measures to improve water quality, especially in the vicinity of former landfill sites and a comprehensive approach to water table management to reduce peat shrinkage and oxidation.’

This requires close working with land owners and land managers of all kinds and that is based on informal friendly contact by someone working on the ground, supported by a small project budget and reporting to a steering group. This is the model which established the successful Bollin Valley Partnership more than 40 years ago, and it perhaps makes sense for the project officer to be based with the BVP or the Cheshire East countryside service.

It is recommended that the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan Implementation Group consults key partners on how such an initiative might be taken forward and how it could be resourced. This will involve:

  • Stage 1.  Wilmslow NP Implementation Group, acting on behalf of Wilmslow Town Council, secures in principle support of neighbouring Parish Councils (Mobberley, Chorley and Great Warford) and Cheshire East Council’s countryside service, including the Bollin Valley Partnership, and Cheshire East Councillors for the area

  • Stage 2. Consult with key government agencies (English Heritage, Environment Agency, Natural England, Heritage Lottery Fund); voluntary bodies (Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Transition Wilmslow, National Trust and CPRE); and the National Farmers Union

  • Stage 3. In parallel with Stage 2 establish links with specialists in the academy (University of Manchester, Manchester Museum, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Institute for Archaeology) and consider setting up a scientific advisory group

  • Stage 4. Hold a major engagement event/programme for people who live and work in the Lindow Moss landscape and the wider public

  • Stage 5. Write a full project proposal and secure funding

 

 

This page and it's attachments will demonstrate what actions are being undertaken to deliver this important aspect of the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan.