An ideal reserve if you wish to visit a reserve that retains much of its wildness.
If you wish to visit a reserve that retains much of its 'wildness', Astley Moss is ideal.
It is one of the largest remaining fragments of the Chat Moss complex, most of which has been lost due to being cut-over for peat or being drained for agriculture.
The moss has been built up by layers of Sphagnum, which act like a huge sponge sitting on the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the vegetation on Astley Moss is poor compared with that of virgin mossland. The Sphagnum moss on Astley has suffered so that S. cuspidatum, S. fallax, S. fimbriatum, and S. sub-nitens are scarce. However important species such as S. papillosum and S. capillifolium can still be found and area increasing.
In an attempt to reinstate the bog flora, Sphagnum moss has been transplanted into some of the pools around the reserve with some success. Although common and Hare's-tail Cottongrass dominate the vegetation there is a distinctive strip of heather along the northern boundary of the reserve where, in the past, Cranberry has also been recorded.
A programme to re-wet the site is currently underway. Invertebrates recorded on the moss are specially adapted to the acid environment. Ponds between the moss hummocks provide the ideal conditions for the aquatic stages in the lifecycle of many species of dragonfly. Ten species have been recorded on Astley and, of those, five are known to breed.
The site is also important for a number of birds, particularly wintering raptors such as Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Merlin. It supports breeding species including Curlew, Willow Tit, Tree Pipit and Whinchat. Many of the native British mammals occur here with Common Shrew, Rabbit, Bank Vole, Short-tailed Vole and Long-tailed Field Mouse all included as prey for the hunting birds. Water vole, a Britain’s fastest declining mammals is a recent addition to the species list at Astley.
Astley Moss presents a particular problem to the managers in that its hydrology is closely linked with that of the surrounding agricultural land, which has been drained and reclaimed. You can see evidence of this in the form of several large ditches that border the reserve. The moss is constantly under threat from drying out with the water being lost at the boundaries and through trees. Where the Trust has control, internal ditches have been dammed to maintain a high water table and seal the moss from the drainage system of the surrounding land.
In the last few years, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Higher Level Stewardship funding from Natural England, over 100 new dams have been installed to re-wet a significant part of the site. These are being monitored by a series of dipwells, which measure the water levels around the site. Initial results suggest considerable success in the re-wetting work. Future management will concentrate on clearance of birch from the re-wetted area to reduce water loss through transpiration.
Species and habitats