Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Precious Peatlands...

I've been spending some time recently exploring the Hope Valley in The Peak District. I wasn't quite prepared for how captivating the scenery would be - everyone has heard of the sumptuous beauty of the Lake District, yet the Peaks remain relatively unheard of, although I think they are just as stunning, with a more rugged and rural quality.

The Heather on Win Hill

I was also unaware of the dramatic colour display that this time of year brings - the gentle eruption of the purple carpet of Heather. Besides it's visual splendour, however this landscape has a critical ecological importance, as it contains a large proportion of the Britain's Peat Bogland. Peat is an ancient substance that forms from dead plant matter under conditions where natural decomposition by bacteria is prevented. In the case of the Pennies, this was due to the glaciers of the ice age covering the terrain. Because the plant matter does not break down fully, peat has a high carbon value. So much so, that although peatlands cover only 3 % of the world's surface, they store twice as much carbon as arboreal forests. And yet, these precious reserves are under threat, suffering greatly from erosion. Although some of is is caused by severe rainfall ( which is though to be increasing due to climate change), much damage is also caused by enthusiastic walkers - so next time you see a polite notice asking you to keep to the footpath, please do heed it! Fortunately, the National Trust are well aware of this issue and are prepared to spend a considerable amount of time and money to address it. Of one of my rambles, I even met a ranger who works professionally to restore peat moorland in this area. Phase one involves planting 'stabilising vegetation' to hold the peat lands in place and prevent further erosion. Following this, gullies that channel rainwater are blocked up to limit the amount washed away by rainfall. The third phase involves more planting - plugs of typical bog species such as Eriophorum vaginatum at a density of 4,000 per hectare. Finally, in the 'Hydro- Seeding' Phase, a helicopter is deployed to drop seeds of species such as Caluna vulgaris, also called common heather. It seems almost perverse that so much manual effort and technology must be used to restore a completely natural landscape but, as much of the damage has been called by ourselves, I think we should feel some obligation. It also highlights the dedication of these organisations - restoring peat can't be as glamorous as saving rhinos but still, they quietly get on with the job. It is certainly worthwhile for views such as these and I hope it will compel others to support these charities.

It is also important because peatlands are the foundation for a unique ecological web. I have seen so much evidence of wildlife on my travels here - kestrels, rabbits, hares, moles... And so any wildflowers that I am constantly embarrassed by my ignorance of native flowers. That's one thing I am still working on!

For more information on Peat Land restoration in The Pennines, please see http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/lookingafter/climate-change/moor-restoration-in-peak-district

Meanwhile, the best way for you to experience this natural palette of stunning colour is to come here yourself.

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