Evaluation of Dartmoor Mires Project
In 2015 R4C was contracted by the Dartmoor National Park Authority to carry out an independent evaluation of the Dartmoor Mires project. This was a partnership initiative to investigate the feasibility and effects of the restoration of degraded blanket bog. The five year pilot project began in 2010 and finished on 31st March 2015. It has been led by Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) in partnership with Natural England (NE), the Duchy of Cornwall, Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, the Environment Agency (EA), and South West Water (SWW), which has provided the majority of the funding under its Upstream Thinking Initiative.
The evaluation determined that the projects key achievements were:
- Development of an innovative approach by bringing a commercial company into what had been a public sector led project.
- Demonstrating that it is possible to undertake restoration works on Dartmoor s peatlands by establishing a locally appropriate technique for working in sensitive wildlife habitats and a visually important landscape.
- Contributing significantly, through the research it commissioned, to what is known about Dartmoor’s peatland environment, not only its condition but also broader ecological and historical aspects.
- Delivering the project through broad based partnership which gave access to a resource of expertise, experience and perspectives as well as lots of commitment and aspirations.
The Evaluation also reviewed both strengths and weaknesses of the project delivery identified some key lessons that should be considered in any plans for future Peatland Restoration projects:
- High quality monitoring and research is critical to helping build the case and this needs to be long-term if the impact is really to be understood.
- Peatland restoration is a difficult topic to communicate well; it was difficult to tell people what it would look like when the work was finished which was unsettling for people who were interested in the project’s impact.
- The people engagement and communication aspects of the project need more time and resources, perhaps equal in amount to the practical work.
- Statutory agencies and NGO's have learnt a lot about working with a large company and vice versa, and in particular the need to create a common understanding of the projects purpose to manage differing expectations.
- The wide range of interests represented on the Partnership Board provided significant support for the project but also some challenges in reconciling differing views and expectations. The evaluation has shown that how a restoration project of this type is organised is as important to its eventual success as the techniques it deploys on the ground.