Climate Change - Key Facts
- Danes Moss is a precious and unique place that holds an incalculable value of its own.
- Peatlands are the biggest store of carbon on land. Places with this type of soil hold more carbon than all the vegetation and forests on earth.
- Peatlands in the UK store approximately 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon. This is 36 times more than all of our woodlands store.
- Danes Moss is the biggest peatland in lowland Cheshire.
- The proposed development site would release up to 220,000 (maybe more) tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) if the peat is excavated or dried out.
- Cheshire East Council commissioned the ‘Peatlands of Cheshire East’ report in 2021. Page 35 states “the extraction and development of peatlands should be stopped immediately across Cheshire East” and is hosted on the council’s website.
- Climate change was deliberately removed as a consideration in the Environmental Statement for the proposed development. This is highly unusual.
Peat - A Carbon Store
Peatlands are waterlogged in their natural state and Danes Moss was once like this. Whilst they are wet, peatlands sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the peat. Even if a peatland is drained and begins to release carbon dioxide it still holds thousands of years of carbon underground. To stop the release of this carbon the peatland can be rewet. After some time, it will begin to sequester carbon again.
Unfortunately, the proposed development site was drained in the 19th century. Although it is still very wet underfoot it is probably not wet enough to actively sequester carbon from the air.
Nevertheless, the site still holds thousands of years of carbon in the peat soil. And because Danes Moss is the biggest peatland in lowland Cheshire this means that it is probably one of the biggest carbon stores in the entire county.
Cheshire East Council (who are leading the development) know how much carbon dioxide could be released by developing the site but do not want to publish the truth. The figure is up to 220,000 tonnes of CO2. This is massive. It is equivalent to 8.7% of the annual emissions for the entire borough of Cheshire East. So much for being a ‘carbon neutral’ council!
An Important Neighbour - The SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)
But 220,000 tonnes of CO2 release may even be a conservative estimate compared to what will be released if the neighbouring peatlands are also destroyed.
Peatlands are connected hydrologically, so if one is excavated or dries out its neighbour will also be damaged. Which places neighbour the proposed development site? The decommissioned Danes Moss Landfill is adjacent to the southern boundary. The landfill sits on up to 6 metres of peat and is not sealed off from the rest of Danes Moss by any underground barrier.
Even more concerning is the nearby Danes Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – a legally protected site under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This part of Danes Moss is owned by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
The SSSI lies to the south of the proposed development site and according to the conditions of the planning permission it must not be damaged. At the nearest point, it is only 70m away from the development site and is almost certainly hydrologically linked. This means that if the development site dries out, the SSSI can too. This would be an absolute catastrophe and carbon emissions and wildlife loss would be even worse than predicted.
The responsibility is on the developer (Cheshire East Council) to demonstrate that their plan will not harm the SSSI. Of course, this has not been proven at any stage and probably cannot be proven.
Natural England ask serious questions
Natural England, the public body responsible for protecting England’s natural environment have asked Cheshire East Council to prove that the SMDA project will not damage the Danes Moss SSSI. The question is very serious. In January 2022, Natural England pointed out that,
“Due to the depth of peat across the development site, major ground stabilisation works are required which could have a devastating effect on the hydrology of the whole area.”
Cheshire East Council -
clueless or dishonest?
The council have attempted to justify this development but they never come out of the exercise looking good. It is not as if the council does not know anything about peat. In 2021, the council spent £6,000 commissioning a report called ‘Peatlands of Cheshire East: An Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Biodiversity.’ Page 35 states that “the extraction and development of peatlands should be stopped immediately across Cheshire East.”
So that’s clear then. But only a few months ago a senior member of Cheshire East Council suggested that the development of Danes Moss would somehow ‘cap and seal’ the carbon emissions as if turning a peatland into an urban environment would somehow reduce emissions. It is hard to express just how absurd and ignorant this idea is... Do you remember when a certain American politician suggested that COVID might be cured by injecting bleach into the bloodstream? Well, it’s about that as bonkers as that. A frightening insight into how little local government understand about peat and climate change. Have they even read their own peat report?
The well-ignored report also explains that because of all the damage caused by agriculture, drainage and er… development only about 1.3% of peatlands in Cheshire East are actively sequestering carbon. This does not mean that they are not massive carbon stores. They are. It simply means that in order to turn them back into carbon sinks the peatlands of Cheshire East need to be rewet and restored.
So, it was a surprise to hear that the council attempted to justify their plans by pointing out the development site was no longer acting as a carbon sink. In February 2022, the council stated that “evidence suggests that the peat on the land is not currently active or growing – this is likely to have been the case for at least 140 years.”
It’s a strange argument to use since around 98.6% of peatlands in Cheshire East are also not currently growing or sequestering carbon. Does that mean it’s fine to allow developments on them? Of course not. Despite its damaged state, the Danes Moss development site is one of the biggest carbon stores in Cheshire even if it isn’t an active carbon sink.
If it is developed:
- the peat will release a carbon bomb of up to 220,000 tonnes of CO2 (and maybe more)
- the opportunity to rewet and restore the site to an active carbon sink will be lost forever and local carbon emissions will be guaranteed into the future
The area of peatland that Cheshire East Council boasted about restoring in the year 2021
The area of the “South Macclesfield Development Area” proposed by the Council – the vast majority of which is peatland
Cheshire East Council (2020) ‘Environment Strategy 2020 – 2024’’ pg. 5
Cheshire East Council (2020) ‘Carbon Neutrality Action Plan’ pg. 8
‘Cheshire East announces pledge to become a net zero borough by 2045‘ Cheshire East Council (2022) See: https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/council_information/media_hub/media_releases/cheshire-east-announces-pledge-to-become-a-net-zero-borough-by-2045.aspx?fbclid=IwAR0zjrCyrAIX5g1CB7DT9rZ1aqQEI2yQ-G3CYk2m02mio4rr5xmuzFsUerI
Cheshire East Council (2022) ‘Council responds to concerns about South Macclesfield scheme’ Available at: https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/council_information/media_hub/media_releases/council-responds-to-concerns-about-south-macclesfield-scheme.aspx
Harding, R. (2021) ‘Peatlands of Cheshire East: An Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Biodiversity.‘ Available at: https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/pdf/environment/carbon-neutral/peatlands-of-cheshire-east-rev-2.1.pdf
ROC Consulting (2021) ‘South Macclesfield Development Area: Assessment of Peatland Carbon Status’