The University of Huddersfield is to play a key role in a new project that aims to restore local peatlands within the River Holme catchment. The project is part of a wider river restoration scheme to improve habitats, biodiversity, and landscapes.

Drs Tory Milner (School of Applied Sciences) and John Lever (Huddersfield Business School) have secured a grant of £58,000 from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs  (DEFRA) that will fund a PhD student based within the School of Applied Sciences (SAS) who will assist research and measurement for the Nature’s Holme project.

The project gets its name from the River Holme which flows from the moors above the village of Holme, near Holme Moss, to flow through towns and villages including Holmfirth and Meltham.

Peat on the upper moors at the river’s source have been damaged by erosion, leading to water running off the land rather than being held in the peat. Healthy peatlands can also capture and store carbon to counteract dangerous emissions released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

South Pennines Park, situated between the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Greater Manchester, East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, is the largest non-statutory national landscape in the UK and home to rare birds, such as merlin, short-eared owl and twite. With its high rainfall and local geology, South Pennines Park is a key area for water supply, with many reservoirs supplying water to nearby towns. 

The group are proposing multiple river restoration interventions within the River Holme catchment, to restore and create habitat corridors to improve biodiversity and to optimise carbon sequestration. These river restoration interventions include gully blocking, planting sphagnum moss on eroded peat, creating woodland buffer zones by planting native trees and hedgerows within intensely farmed land, and removing weirs on the River Holme. The PhD project will examine how different types of drainage dams influence physicochemistry and benthic macroinvertebrates in peatland catchments.

Dr Milner, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, said, “I am very excited to be working with South Pennines Park, local charity River Holme Connections, the Palladium Group as well as local farmers and landowners to improve biodiversity and restore habitats within the River Holme catchment. The funding will provide a fantastic opportunity for a PhD student to get excellent experience of practical conservation work, whilst contributing to research to mitigate climatic warming in peatlands.” The scheme is one of 22 across the country to receive government funding through the Landscape Recovery scheme, which is supported by DEFRA and will involve groups of farmers and land managers working together to deliver environmental benefits across farmed and rural landscapes – improving soils, flood alleviation and water retention, increasing biodiversity carbon storage, and improved water quality.