Practical People Power

It’s said that when elk walked on the Slamannan plateau peatland they could stroll all the way to Denmark.  The elk may now have gone, though you’re likely to spot a relatively new species on the Central Belt’s bogs today – the practical conservation volunteer. Phil Baarda, our Policy and Advice Officer for Ecosystems and Land Use, tells us about the amazing contribution they’re making.

Clearing Birch, Wester Moss. © David Palmar

Clearing birch, Wester Moss. © David Palmar

Although maybe not quite so elegant as an elk, these non-camouflaged folk dressed in hi-viz protective clothing and wellies are having just as profound an effect on the environment – and all for the good.

Slamannan is only a single example. This once-huge peatland south of Falkirk is now severely fragmented, and is under pressure through drainage from the surrounding agricultural land, and has trees and scrub invading and over-running the fragile peatland habitat. Over the last two years, groups of volunteers coordinated by Buglife have cleared around 33 hectares of spreading gorse, birch and lodgepole pine trees, returning the bog to its open heathy – and healthy – state.

They’ve also blocked drainage ditches and installed nine dams to retain water within the peatland site ensuring sphagnum and other essential bog mosses can thrive. The stats are impressive – this work was achieved by 60 volunteers over six separate days.

The variety of volunteering tasks at Slamannan. © Buglife

The variety of volunteering tasks at Slamannan. © Buglife

The same is true of other bog and peatland sites across Central Scotland. Wester Moss near Stirling has seen Butterfly Conservation volunteers also clear scrub and build dams (eight separate groups of 30 volunteers). The same is true across in the west, where the East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative (CEI) is charged with restoring and enhancing areas that are in and around former coal fields – a dauntingly huge area. Despite this, they’ve actively restored an amazing 450ha of peatland, much of it with volunteer people power. CEI’s Project officer Gemma Jennings says this ‘would be a lot of ground to cover without the help of our amazing volunteers.’

Moss near Stirling.  © David Hill, Butterfly Conservation Scotland

Dam building at Wester Moss near Stirling. © David Hill, Butterfly Conservation Scotland

It’s not only practical work that volunteers get involved with – if you have a skill, these organisations can use it, or they can train you up. As well as ‘scrub-bashing’ birch and pine trees with bowsaws, or driving in plastic piling for ditch blocking and dam-building, you’re as likely to be monitoring the effectiveness of the bog’s hydrological restoration through measuring the depth of water at dipwells or through aquatic invertebrate surveys. You may be recording vegetation height and growth, or noting bog recovery through surveying for indicator species such as the large heath butterfly or black grouse, or for wading birds. You might even be bumblebee spotting or going on a bog sun jumper spider hunt!

CEI volunteers taking part in a large heath survey at Airds Moss. © EACEI

CEI volunteers taking part in a large heath survey at Airds Moss. © EACEI

These organisations may be small, but all punch considerably above their weight – largely because of volunteers. David Hill, Butterfly Conservation’s peatland restoration project officer acknowledges much of BC’s success is because of people’s commitment and enthusiasm. ‘What we’ve achieved,’ he says, ‘wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our volunteers’.

Get involved, and make a difference. Stand where elk once stood!

More information

Much of this work has been through the EcoCoLIFE project – an EU LIFE funded project which is joining up nature and people across Scotland’s Central Belt.

To get involved with any of these organisation see:

Butterfly Conservation 


East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative

Further reading

The latest CEI Volunteer Newsletter can be viewed here.

Read a blog from a volunteer session with CEI: ‘Biodiversity on the bog – a day at Airds Moss’

Find out more about volunteer work days by reading the blogs:  Butterlfy Conservation and Buglife Bog Squad and Wild Reekie .

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