Skip to main content

Big Bog Blog Post

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Open data

For our first team outing, the Data Programme team went to a bog. We are spread all over England, so gathering together is a big thing. We do things like unhangout to get over the boundaries, but team gatherings are to be cherished. That said, over the last year when we've gathered, we've never all been there. Life, as you know, is complicated.

Rather than just focusing on ourselves we took this opportunity to listen to others, to see for ourselves the impact that our networked family of teams and individuals across Defra group has.

A picture of misty Edale
'# Out on a misty, upland heath we found a blanket bog; You had an eyeglass, held moss jealously, so small to see...' (words inspired by Kate Bush. photo: CC-BY Stefan Janusz)

We went to Edale in the Peak District National Park to conduct a Sphagnum Moss Survey as  volunteers. Before heading out into the bog the Moors for the Future partnership team explained why they do the work. One of the bits that stuck out was that with the recognition that peat soils represent 42 per cent of our entire carbon stock. A dedicated team has started to reverse centuries of damage caused by heavy metals from the industrial revolution. Sphagnum Moss both creates the peat bog and keeps carbon locked up.

To do the Sphagnum Moss Survey we walked along a footpath, in small groups, trying to identify the right moss, at one point it felt like gold rush fever set in. Members of Moors for the Future partnership> team joined each group and acted as a guide, they also kingly provided cameras and other kit. A waterproof clipboard is a must when you're looking for plants that like it wet.

Sphagnum moss
Some sphagnum moss. Incredible stuff.

On return back to base we entered a few of the records we had captured in irecord. Our team discussion towards the end of the day was about Defra Data Principles which are being developed and how we knit together as a team.

Views from the team:


On the route back to base from our survey I had a lovely chat with Jane who had been helping us identify moss. Jane has a zero hours contract with the partnership, which she fills with three different roles, including winching. They use helicopters to take things up the mountain and Jane was explaining the impact this has. By putting old stone flags from the mills on footpaths there is less erosion. Jane also mentioned that when they drop sacks of stuff to start to knit bare peat back together it wobbles like jelly.

I now remember, as I type this, that I left the train tickets and baby wipe litter I found attached to the back of the waterproof clipboard.

Data team looking for sphagnum moss in Edale
From left: Lisa, Jane, Steve, Farah, David (other team members were crouching looking for sphagnum moss)
Rachel looking for sphagnum
Rachel looking for sphagnum

There are more photos from the visit here


It was good to get my hands dirty doing fieldwork, which is where I started in Defra way back, I still have a weatherwriter (waterproof clipboard) and soil auger in the shed at home…..On the walk up to the survey area and chatting with Joe from the Partnership, we discovered loads of common ground and potential to help each other out on the data side.  None of this would have happened through more formal channel.


It was lovely to meet all the team and have time for the informal conversations that are squeezed out normally with all of our busy diaries!


Keeping it simple - the fresh air and the surroundings i hope did everyone good.


Although, with a small baby, I wasn’t able to stay overnight to socialise with the team, I really enjoyed spending time with everyone thinking about what Defra data represents and the impact it has in the real world (so real, there was no mobile signal!) - it made me think that, if I was stuck away from home for a few days, I’d be perfectly happy with this lot! #iCare about #moss 🙂

John D

Learning about Sphagnum Moss itself was worth the trip. It’s amazing: grows in water, low pH, no natural predators, about 34 different types (we saw at least 8 in a short walk), doesn't die but just gets squashed into peat over centuries, and provides essential habitat for multiple species of vegetation, insects and birds. It's a highly effective preservative that was used by Vikings to transport fish and has antibiotic properties that saw it being used in emergency medical treatment on battlefields. Like I said, it's amazing and it was very pleasing to be able to do something to support it being re-established in the Peak District.

Work wise, I talked INSPIRE with Mike R and Steve, who obviously found it easier to tackle with a hand wrapped around a pint. We need to follow that up soon.

And of course it was great to be out on a beautiful moor and with no internet connection all day.  Many of us in the team were remembering when a regular hike was normal - before we became city dwellers.

Mike O’D

Pity I missed the trip. It looked like quite spectacular scenery and surroundings.


It was refreshing to meet with the team outside of the usual office surroundings, overall a really fun and informative day.


Getting away from our particular business issues allowed us to bond as a team and I think was very worthwhile. Edale too is a special place for me and enabled me to connect what I do with why I do it in no uncertain terms.


For me linking with one of the other parts of the Defra group, seeing the power of citizens in building up a source of data (easily and at minimal cost) was powerful. It sparked thoughts towards our case studies, making it real for the user of data. The team, and my spirit was bolstered on a gorgeous day, great hosts and a good dose of team gossip to boot…

Sharing and comments

Share this page