Dried peat has been used as a fuel by humans for many thousands of years. The lowland raised bog at Danes Moss is no exception to this and in the past has been cutover to provide peat fuel, thankfully this exploitation has been stopped here for many years.
A peat bog is a wetland and a key process in using harvested peat is to allow it to dry out so that it can be burnt more easily. Unfortunately this also applies to the peat when it is still in the ground, if the water table lowers the drying peat becomes more susceptible to drying out and catching fire. Peatland fires can be devastating for carbon emissions and for the special wildlife that forms the peatland habitats.
In fact Danes Moss only narrowly missed a devastating fire in 2020 where Cheshire Wildlife Trust stated that is was extremely lucky large areas of the reserve were not impacted. Cheshire live reported on it here and the incident is still listed on the Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service website here.
Quoted from the Great Fen website article on the ‘Danger of Peatland Fires’ here
The area of Danes Moss prior to becoming a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a Cheshire Wildlife Trust Nature reserve was drying out and historically had a number of wildfires that have thankfully become a lower risk since rewetting and restoration. The area at risk of development covers 55hs and just over 50ha of this area is peatland with an average depth of peat of over 2.3m which in some areas is 5.5m (11% of the boreholes taken do not reach the bottom of the peat layer and so the true depths are presently unrecorded).
This area currently maintains a high water table in late June 2022 there is still standing water on parts of the site and the water table can be seen to be less than 30cm from the surface. In the winter there are areas of the site that are covered with surface flood water.
There is no information within the planning documentation addressing the potential fire risk or giving clear details on how the water table would be affected by development.
Is it responsible planning policy for Cheshire East Council to allow residential housing to be built on land that could literally go up in smoke?
The best way of countering the risk of fire is to increase the volume of water in the peat via rewetting:
IUCN Burning and Peatlands document available here
Danes Moss is a wetland.
With development there WILL be a negative impact on the water table. If it was possible to develop the site without impacting the water table is it reasonable to believe residents will accept living in houses where the garden fills with water at a spades depth even in the summer?
A primary constituent of peat is water, when this water is removed it WILL shrink by 20% or more in volume. This means subsidence of 1m (yes – 1m or 100cm) for much of the site. Cheshire East Council refer to ‘new technologies’ to counter this. As yet the Save Danes Moss campaign has been unable to find any information on technologies that allow houses to be built on peatland safely, the details released by Cheshire East Council so far indicate consideration of unproven experimental techniques. Highlands and Islands Council in Scotland have just commenced a detailed study of stabilising peat and one of the methods they are investigating is exactly the same deep soil mixing process proposed for Danes Moss, this study is only considering stabilisation of peat to 40cm.
As stated above and to re-state again:
Danes Moss is a wetland
In its current state the proposed development area has standing water across the site during the winter months, i.e. it floods.
Lowering the water table via drainage to allow the development to take place will be devastating to the carbon emissions released by the site and counterintuitively may not remove the flood risk at all and potentially make it even worse.
Even at the height of summer there is still standing water across the site.
As stated in the 3C Waste response to the reserved matters (company responsible for managing the old landfill site, see here) peat shrinkage may increase the flooding on the development area as with peat shrinkage the runoff may drain directly onto the site and not to the East as currently happens.
This may also impact the wetness of the nature reserve as this water currently runs into it and may be an important inflow of water that helps keep it wet. At present there is no documentation that counters this comment or provides any detail on hydrology and the impacts for the adjoining nature reserve with its legally protected SSSI.
The proposed development area sits alongside an old landfill site. The landfill was tipped with waste in the 1960’s and 1970’s before there were requirements for modern containment engineering therefore the landfill is:
3C response available here
More details on the Landfill Directive can be found on the government website here.
Additional key points to note from the 3C response regarding pollution are:
- ‘direct and indirect effects of draining the site are not recognised in either the reserved matters or outline application’
- ‘the containment properties of the landfill may be affected resulting in emissions of landfill gas and leachate, the landfill will create hazardous quantities of gas for many decades, the plan indicates housing along the boundary presenting a risk to those properties’
Is it the action of a modern, responsible and environmentally aware council to allow development on an area that they have been warned will expose residents within the development to flammable gas and pollutants over a period of decades? This is land where Cheshire East Council are currently majority landholders, they have a duty of care to fulfil to protect residents of Cheshire East.