British Army Troops rally to help us restore Sale Pot

A team of thirty five soldiers from the British Army’s Light Dragoons have joined us today, to reinvigorate the peat bog ecosystem here at Wild Haweswater, as part of our extensive landscape restoration effort. 

This collaborative project, marks the second year of the British Army’s ‘Global Charge’ green initiative, demonstrating their commitment to supporting local environmental projects. In an area of peat bog in Riggindale Valley, the Light Dragoons used their strength, and crucially, their engineering expertise, to strategically move several huge boulders and 1,000 natural bags of earth, so that water has been captured and held in place to re-wet this landscape for a thriving habitat to develop.

The army selected Wild Haweswater, due to our long-term conservation work here – with us at the RSPB working in partnership with our landlord United Utilities since 2011, to enhance this beautiful landscape for the future, benefitting wildlife, water and people. 

“As a local resident, I was aware of the vital work taking place at Wild Haweswater to improve the habitats there. When the British Army’s annual green initiative The Global Charge was coming round again this year, I saw a golden opportunity to contribute. The team at Haweswater readily embraced our offer of assistance, knowing that with 35 soldiers, we can make a significant impact on the peat bog restoration.”

Major Sean Mackey, of the Light Dragoons, who instigated the army’s involvement in the project

The soldiers worked hard at Sale Pot which means “Willow Pool”, situated in the Riggindale Valley adjacent to Haweswater Reservoir. Its meaning gives a nod to how it used to be and previously the RSPB conducted vegetation surveys that revealed this now dry area was once a flourishing wetland habitat, as evidenced by the remnants of bog plants that still exist.

Extensive peat bog drainage has historically occurred in upland areas, primarily for agricultural purposes. However, this practice has inadvertently impacted water quality, increased downstream flooding, and disrupted the bog’s capacity to support diverse plant and animal life.

We’ve previously investigated re-wetting this peat bog, but it would have involved helicoptering in machinery and the cost of that was prohibitively expensive. We’re a small team of three Wardens here at Wild Haweswater, so it isn’t a task we could have done alone.

“But with 35 soldiers to lend both engineering expertise, and their collective strength – moving rocks and earth to block old ditches and hold the water in the bog again, it only took a day to complete this mammoth task. We’re extremely thankful to the Environment Agency who funded the natural bags we’ve used to hold the earth in place, some of our own volunteer team who came to help, and of course, to the Light Dragoons for thinking of us and working hard in challenging conditions. We hope to work with them again in future years.”

Richard Smith, one of our RSPB Wardens who was leading the day

We’re delighted to have the army’s help on this project. It’s a continuation of previous peat bog work we’ve carried out at Wild Haweswater to improve drinking water, slow the flow during high rainfall, and increase the wildlife and biodiversity that relies on this internationally important habitat. Wet peat bogs also absorb large amounts of carbon, so make a huge contribution to the fight against climate change.”

John Gorst, Catchment Partnership Officer for United Utilities in Cumbria

The Light Dragoons along with some of our staff and volunteers had a walk of over an hour and a half to get into Sale Pot, off paths, on very rocky, wet and steep terrain. They carried the natural earth bags and spades and other equipment needed for the day, and worked hard in windy and very wet (horizontal rain) conditions to get the job done. Enormous thanks go to all who helped.

Discover more about the work of the RSPB and United Utilities at Haweswater here: wildhaweswater.co.uk

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Blog and images by Annabel Rushton, RSPB Visitor Experience Manager at Wild Haweswater

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