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The past and the peat

image depicting Diggers help with ditch blocking
Diggers help with ditch blocking
A project to restore the peatlands of Exmoor has revealed previously unknown archaeological secrets, according to a new book.

The Exmoor Mires Project is in the process of restoring 2,500 hectares of peat bogs by blocking drainage ditches.

South West Water, which is the main funder, and the project partners the Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Historic England and local landowners, launched the Exmoor Mires Project in 2010 to slow down water leaving the moor, enhancing river flows and improving water quality, which will make the water cheaper to treat and turn into the high quality tap water we all expect.

The work involves using excavators to build ditch blocks, and so the project employed Dr Lee Bray as Historic Environment Officer to ensure that the rich archaeology of Exmoor was protected and properly recorded.

Dr Bray and his team investigated potential archaeological remains before mire restoration took place, resulting in the identification of around 550 previously unrecognised potentially archaeological features, including over 100 features which are probably prehistoric in date.

The results have been presented in a book, 'The Past and the Peat', published by Exmoor National Park Authority.

Findings included: 
   •    significant, previously unrecorded prehistoric features including cairns, burial mounds and standing stones

   •    more extensive remains including an occupation site dating to the Mesolithic and Neolithic between 6000BC and 3000BC

   •    the first evidence on Exmoor of a remnant soil pre-dating peat development

   •    important advances in our understanding of Exmoor's changing environment

   •    extensive new evidence for 19th century iron mining on Exmoor.

Dr Bray said: "From an archaeological perspective, the project's work represents an unprecedented investment of resources in Exmoor's historic environment.

"Sometimes peatland restoration is seen as being in conflict with archaeology but this project has demonstrated how archaeological investigation, if properly planned for, can be an intrinsic element of peatland restoration. We hope that the Exmoor Mires Project will act as a benchmark demonstrating how the historic environment can be integrated with peatland restoration in future."

Vanessa Straker, Historic England Science Adviser for the South West, said: "South West Water and the project partners should be congratulated for taking a holistic and sensitive approach to this important landscape and I'm delighted to see the results captured in this fascinating book." 

Notes to editors

1. Please contact the press office if you would like to be sent a review copy.
2. Available from Exmoor National Park Information Centres or from Tor Mark book distributors, United Downs Industrial estate, St. Day, Redruth, Cornwall. TR16 5HY
Tel: 01209 822101 Email: office@tormark.co.uk
Price £10

Published: 07 September 2015 

For further information please contact:

Press Office
South West Water
www: www.southwestwater.co.uk/contactus

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