The ditches were coated with ice. Between them the peat quaked beneath our feet. I felt I had stumbled into Conan Doyle's lost world

I find it difficult to imagine Britain covered by ice 1,000ft thick. But that is what one had to bear in mind to get the best out of a remarkable meeting on Wednesday in Delamere Forest, a few miles from Chester.

When the glaciers retreated northwards at the end of the last ice age, colossal lumps broke off them and forced down the sub-strata into hollows now known as kettle-holes. Delamere contains several, and this week attention was focused on the largest, Blakemere Moss, nearly a mile long and up to half a mile wide.

Final settlement of the earth's surface left this oblong hollow without any exit for the water that trickled in off surrounding land. The result was a peat bog, and for hundreds of years man struggled to drain it so that it would grow trees.

Local legend has it that in about 1815, prisoners from the Napoleonic wars were set to dig drainage ditches and, in particular, one exit channel. Foresters then planted the moss with oak, and, when this failed, with Scots pine. In the Twenties the area was taken over by the Forestry Commission, which in the Forties tried yet again with a mixture of pine and western hemlock.

This, too, grew poorly, and over the years fortunes were spent on keeping the ditches open. Then in 1992 the commission took a momentous decision: to scrap the scruffy trees and see if it could return the area to bog, or even create a lake. As one senior officer remarked, "For people whose lives are dedicated to growing trees, it was such a conceptual leap that for a long time nobody could face it."

The commission established that there would be no local opposition to the idea, and last June a harvester machine went to work; 16 weeks later, 4,500 tons of timber had been cleared, leaving a sea of lop and top. A contractor was called in to pile it into heaps, which will be burnt as soon as they are dry enough.

Having created a spectacular opening in the forest, the commission now has to decide what to do with it. A concrete sluice has been built on the one exit drain, and it will be possible to raise the water level by simply putting in boards across the 5ft opening. But should the entire area be flooded? What will happen, in biological and hydrological terms, if 100 acres go under water?

Hence Wednesday's meeting, at which a dozen scientists were invited to give their views. A visit to the site made a profound impression. Suddenly, in the middle of the forest, we came on this vast open area, dotted with hundreds of brushwood heaps, and surrounded by a curving fringe of Scots pines, which, standing on higher, sandy ground, have grown tall and straight.

The Napoleonic drainage ditches were coated with ice. Between them the peat quaked beneath our feet. Maybe it was because I had bought a postcard of a pterodactyl in the visitor centre, but I felt I had stumbled into Conan Doyle's lost world. When a peat specialist rammed his sampling tube straight down, and came up with a dark brown core a metre long, it was eerie to think that the earth-like substance at the bottom had not seen the light of day for at least 5,000 years.

The scientists made numerous suggestions. One was that the incoming water be analysed to find out what plants a bog might support; another, that pits should be dug before flooding starts, so the moss will eventually encompass several ponds.

One major worry is that millions of dead hemlock leaves may poison the outflow; another possibility is that the water may not rise high enough to prevent the birch, a notorious survivor, from regenerating. Two things are certain: that Blakemere Moss will become a valuable new wetland; and that specialists will follow with the utmost fascination the steps taken to create it.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: IT teacher required immediately...

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Assistant - Windows XP/7/8, Networks Firewalls/VPN's

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Assistant - Windows XP/7/8, Netwo...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album