Rewetting and monitoring activities at the Radovitsky Mokh peatland, Moscow Oblast

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Case study

The Project’s restoration site is located in the southwestern part of the Radovitsky Mokh peatland at the border with Ryazan Oblast, and covers 1,600 hectares. It is the only part of the peatland that was not included in the regional program of peatland rewetting in 2011-2012. Over the past 10 years, fires have repeatedly broken out here. There is a firing range in the immediate vicinity of the drained peatland where artillery exercises have been conducted, and sometimes fires spread beyond the range.

Peat fires in the areas rewetted in 2011 and 2012 that border the focal site from the north and east have been monitored jointly by the Moscow Regional Emergency and Restoration Service (MosAVS) and the Ministry of Forestry of the Moscow Oblast. First and foremost, technological monitoring of engineering installations – sluices, gates, dams, roads etc. – has been carried out. However, the status of the rewetted peatlands has not received much attention, with no biological and hydrological monitoring programme introduced to assess the progress and character of vegetation succession at the peatland. The restoration of mire vegetation is a true indicator of optimal moisture content of the peat layer – and that, in fact, is the purpose of rewetting.

It should be noted that the 2011-2012 rewetting projects had a number of significant drawbacks in terms of water regime management in the area. Surveys performed prior to rewetting were designed to meet the construction guidelines that suit interests of the construction sector, not rewetting. As a result, some parts of the peatland are now areas of open water surface, while other, more elevated parts remained dry and fire-prone.

The new rewetting site developed in 2020 elevates over the adjacent land and has extremely limited surface and groundwater resources. According to archival data, the site would annually catch fire even in its natural state prior to drainage. Therefore, building a water-filled firebreak ditch is required to separate the swamp and forested areas. Another important circumstance is a forest drainage and irrigation system from the 1960s that borders the site from the side of the Ryazan Oblast. It is degraded, yet preserved the surface water runoff in the direction away from the rewetting site.

The 2020 rewetting design gives preference to the installation of temporary earth cofferdams or dams made of local materials. The installation would be a natural system providing a synchronous and steady increase in the groundwater level averaging 0.5 m. Additionally, the site perimeter canals will be restored to prevent the spread of fires beyond their origination points.

In the fall 2020, baseline studies were carried out to introduce post-rewetting long-term monitoring of the site. These included the assessment of peat moisture content, fire hazard status and vegetation development patterns. The ground surveys were supported by remote sensing surveys from a drone, which helped to develop a preliminary GIS model. The materials obtained underpin the organization of experimental studies into restoration processes in mire ecosystems. In perspective, permanent monitoring plots will be established in different locations across the rewetted area that will help to correct intensity, speed, character, and dynamics of restorative vegetation succession.

Monitoring studies underpin performance assessments of the measures taken, allow the use of most reliable remote sensing techniques, and provide a system for accounting changes in the rate and absorption of GHG fluxes. Thus, long-term monitoring of rewetted cutover peatlands will help to assess how the rewetting project has reduced the fire hazard rate and improved the level of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change.

Kirill Shakhmatov