Hidden past and green future of chat moss guided walk

Lydia Dayes

The day started with a glimmer of sunshine gracing us momentarily as I headed to Irlam train station to meet those joining me for a long overdue mooch around the moss.

As I approached the café I could see friendly faces of wonderful volunteers and new faces of people keen to join in with the adventure the day would bring. As we gathered under the shelter in front of the café, the realisation hit that this rain was setting in and for once I was thankful I’d remembered to pick up my waterproofs!

After a brief period of meeting and greeting and thanking everyone for coming, I unwrapped our landscape OS map to begin the guided walk. With a little description, this map so clearly shows our potential wildlife ‘motorway’ throughout this historical landscape, of which Chat Moss is sat right in the middle. I’m always amazed by the story of peoples’ attitude change towards this landscape and the purpose of this walk was to put this into perspective using actual historical events. As our attitudes are powerful. Capable of dramatically changing this landscape and continuing to shape our world.

As the rain eased off (didn’t stop! Just eased off) we set off for our ramble. Due to the rain we decided to walk straight to Little Woolden Nature reserve and have a discussion within a well-placed polytunnel as a half way point. This left a good half hour walk to just get to know the wonderful people who had kindly joined me that day, how far they had travelled and what had inspired them about this secretive landscape to join me rambling on such a wet day. It was so wonderful to be joined by local volunteers who not only see value in this beautiful space but donate their precious time to restoring areas like Little Woolden Moss nature reserve back to bog. It was also inspiring to meet new faces, people who once lived locally and wanted to come and discover the moss, as previously this land was hostile to wanderers because of its industrial peat extraction past. Other kind souls had joined us from further afield to gain a better understanding of how the landscape functions as one, something this project was established to promote.

Upon arriving at the polytunnel we took the opportunity to rest our legs. Contending with the rain bouncing off the plastic ceiling above us, I delved into the vast history of Chat Moss. The soil beneath our feet, peat, is a perfect time capsule allowing us to know how the landscape has changed since the ice age. The plants preserved in the peat have locked in any Neolithic evidence of human activity, Iron age sacrifices and are very indicative of how our climate has altered since this landscape was formed. I won’t ruin the talk as I always think it’s better in person, but our ancestors once appreciated and respected this bog, then as we move into the written word we see a change to our attitudes. This land must now work for us. Industry, war and revolution dominated this once sacred natural beauty spot, scars which are still evident today. We can’t forget how this area has saved lives during the wars, fed bodies during times of development, so is it now time for us to give back to this area? Stop seeing it as a resource for us to ‘use’ or work for us and think about this as a lifeline for remedying some of our past scars on our earth? Too much? I don’t think so, rewetting, restoring and healing this vast area of Salford’s once thriving peat bog could carbon store many of the nasty gasses which pollute the air we breathe today. Simple acts can ripple to bigger greatness of helping our exotic wildlife, but I digress. Once filled with knowledge we took the opportunity to depart the polytunnel while the rain was lifting.

At this point our party was separating and seeing as this week marked the 25th birthday celebration for the Heritage Lottery Fund, the original funder for this fantastic nature reserve. I thought it was only right to reveal how much work had gone into the restoration of Little Woolden Moss by volunteers over the last 5 years. Nearly 9Ha of birch removed off site, 2.5Ha bracken removed, 20m plastic piling inserted (by hand!), 34 ditches blocked, 4838 bog plants planted, 3850 saplings planted and over2,500 volunteer days committed to healing the site. That’s just naming a few of the stats!

As we meandered back to the train station for a hot drink and seat by the roaring fire, we reflected on this mystical landscape and the amazing dedication passionate volunteers have achieved towards giving this landscape a greener future.

Many thanks to all those who joined us for this walk and please keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming events on Chat Moss.