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Data from: Resilience of peatland ecosystem services over millennial timescales: evidence from a degraded British bog

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Swindles, Graeme T. et al. (2017). Data from: Resilience of peatland ecosystem services over millennial timescales: evidence from a degraded British bog [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Many peatland ecosystems in Europe have become degraded in the last century owing to the effects of drainage, burning, pollution, and climate change. There is a need to understand the drivers of peatland degradation because management and restoration interventions can affect the natural ecohydrological dynamics of such sensitive environments, and are expensive. However, if given enough time peatlands may have the ability to recover spontaneously without deliberate action. 2. We use a detailed multiproxy palaeoecological dataset from a degraded raised bog in Northern England to examine its ecosystem stability and long-term dynamics in response to anthropogenic disturbance over a variety of timescales. One feature of many degraded peatlands (including our study site) is the local dominance of Molinia caerulea (purple moor-grass), which has expanded at the expense of characteristic peatland plants, including sedges and Sphagnum mosses. 3. Our data show that there has been a long history of human impacts at the site which have culminated in its current unfavourable condition. Several distinct episodes of past peat cutting are evident as hiatuses in peat accumulation; however, peat accumulation and plant community structure have subsequently recovered spontaneously. The appearance of M. caerulea occurs coevally with an unprecedented variety of recent anthropogenic impacts, all of which have arguably contributed to providing a suitable environment for its rise to dominance. We have dated the appearance of M. caerulea to the latter half of the twentieth century which corresponds to a number of anthropogenic press disturbances, including: dust loading from post-war expansion of the adjacent quarry; burning; drainage; airborne pollution; and contamination from soil dust and agrochemicals. 4. Synthesis Our study demonstrates the importance of palaeoecology for understanding the trajectories of peatland development and ecosystem dynamics, including their resilience and resistance to pulse and press disturbances. We show that peatlands have the capability to recover spontaneously from severe disturbances such as peat cutting, albeit on timescales much longer than those applied to monitoring of restoration efforts. The implications are relevant for determining whether it is better to manage and restore peatlands, or to allow them to recover naturally without human intervention.

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