Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum

The Humberhead Peatlands comprise of Hatfield Moors and Thorne Moors – with its component parts Goole Moors, Crowle Moors and Rawcliffe Moors. They are all nationally and internationally important for their wildlife.

The Humberhead Peatlands are a meeting place for northern and southern species. A remarkably large number of plants and animals are on their range edge here, resulting in a unique species mix.

Only 10,227 hectares of lowland raised mire is left in England and Thorne and Hatfield represent approximately 31% of this.

A unique environment

Roe Deer fawn
Roe Deer Fawn

Raised mires are very different from other lowland raised mires and are a unique ecosystem. Thorne and Hatfield Moors are the two largest lowland raised mires in Britain, covering approximately 3,000 hectares in total. They are considered to be the only true continental raised mires in Britain with a strong affinity to the Baltic lowlands.

The importance of Thorne and Hatfield Moors is confirmed by their designations:

  1. Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  2. Special Protection Areas under the European Birds Directive
  3. Special Areas of Conservation under European Habitats Directive
  4. Qualifies as Wetlands of International Importance under the terms of the Ramsar Convention.

Invertebrate interest


In terms of its invertebrate fauna, Thorne Moors is the richest peatland site in Britain. It contains the fourth largest assemblage of rare species of any British site irrespective of habitat. Hatfield Moor is in the top ten of such sites and yet is acknowledged as being under-recorded.

So far the recorded insect fauna of both Moors exceeds 5,500 species – around 25% of British fauna – with over 30 Red Data Book species and over 250 nationally scarce species. Six species are known from no other sites in Britain, including three that were new to Britain in 1992.

The Moors are notable as the only British localities for:

  1. The Red Data Book Category 1 – ground beetle Bembidion humerale and pill beetle Curimopsis nigrita, both of which are rare throughout Europe.
  2. The Red Data Book Category 2 – Phaonia jaroschewskii, a Muscid that is currently known only from the Moors in Britain.
  3. Further species are added each year.
  4. Botanical interest includes royal fern, bog rosemary, the insectivorous round leaved sundew and bladderwort, and the greater yellow-rattle.

Historical records

The acidic peat of the Moors creates an environment in which few bacteria survive and where there is minimal free oxygen. This inhibits the process of decay and has allowed a veritable Domesday archive of four millennia to be preserved. Charred tree stumps yield rare clues to the activities of Bronze Age human communities – but if the mire is allowed to dry out, this record is lost forever.

A Neolithic trackway

Quite by accident in October 2004 an amazing discovery was made by M. Oliver, a retired mineral planning officer and regular attender at Forum meetings. Out on the moor he found what he considered an unnatural wooden configuration, which he described as ‘the hand of man’ at work. What had escaped being harvested for ‘multi purpose compost’ was subsequently investigated and has been dated as Neolithic in origin. There is debate still as to the purpose and function of the structure. Although there appears to be no definitive explanation, it does prove beyond the shadow of a doubt the value of these unique moors – not only for their incredible biodiversity but their unique archive of climate change and anthropomorphic interest.

A natural climate regulator

Common Spotted Orchid
Peat bogs are huge carbon stores. The bog vegetation removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, trapping it in the layers of peat. In this way peat bogs act as a natural carbon sinks. The continued drainage and extraction of peat resources allows carbon to be released back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, thus adding to the problem of global warming.

Peat extraction

Modern methods of peat extraction, especially the introduction of industrial strip milling, has transformed the landscape of the Moors that has taken four thousand years to accumulate and has supported traditional peat harvesting for at least six hundred years. The corporate carnage of industrial peat mining over the last thirty years has reduced these rich, diverse and unique habitats to a barren landscape and life struggles to re-establish itself. Now a national nature reserve, peat cutting draws to an end on both moors. The battle to ‘restore’ these last lowland raised mires is just the beginning…

The Humberhead Levels

The Humberhead Peatlands is itself part of the Humberhead Levels area. This is a large tract of landscape, less than 10m above sea-level, occupying the area of the former pro-glacial Lake Humber. Its unity of character is derived from this glacial impoundment, and the alluvial deposits which resulted, together with a long history of drainage and ‘warping’ which is the seasonal impounding of tidal silts to enhance the soils. It is bounded to the west by the Southern Magnesian Limestone ridge and to the east by the Yorkshire Wolds and the Northern Lincolnshire Edge with Coversands area. To the north it merges gradually into the slightly more undulating landscape of the Vale of York at the line of the Escrick moraine and to the south, past Retford, it merges with the Trent and Belvoir vales.

The Forum’s remit includes of this area, particularly south of the Rivers Aire and Ouse, as it contains many unique features which complement and enhance the Humber Peatlands. Please click here to view the map – reproduced with the permission of Natural England.