During the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we’ve been joining SNH staff working along our shorelines and watery places to gain an insight into the important and varied work they do. This month, following on from International Bog Day, National Nature Reserve (NNR) Manager David Pickett tells us about the importance of the bog habitat he looks after at Flanders Moss NNR.
At Flanders Moss you might be long way from the sea but there is certainly no shortage of water! In fact the reserve has been called “the land of water” as it consists of an enormous area of peat 5m thick covering an area of more than 2,000 football pitches of completely water-logged peat.
For hundreds of years, landowners and tenants alike put in a huge amount of time and effort trying to get rid of what was seen as agriculturally unproductive land, resulting in about 40% of the original bog disappearing down the River Forth – cut, removed and flushed away.
Luckily 60% avoided this end and, though damaged and drying out, it survived to modern times to be saved as a National Nature Reserve. We now look on bogs with very different eyes and greatly value them for their rare species, the ways they help to reduce flooding by holding onto rain water and how they can help to reduce the effects of climate change by capturing carbon. Plus of course they are wonderful places to visit!
I do feel a bit of an affinity to the workers who cleared the bog though – the moss lairds as they were known locally – as much of what we do today is spent working with water on the difficult bog surface. The difference being that they spent their time trying to get the water off the moss quicker to dry it out while we are working to hold the water onto the moss to restore the bog habitat.
I also feel an affinity with Rob Roy who roamed the area nearly 300 years ago plying his trade of stealing cattle and disappearing with them. He was reputed to be one of the few to know their way round the impassable wetlands of the Carse of Stirling. Walking on Flanders today is tricky – there was are many hidden, water-filled ditches that can spoil your day if you don’t know the paths round them. Since first venturing out on Flanders Moss 20 years ago I have found most of these the hard way but nowadays don’t fall in as many as I used to!
It’s not just communing with the ancients, although things certainly don’t happen quickly here – after all the bog has taken thousands of years to grow to what it is. An end of year report can say “another mm of peat accumulated”. But time away from the place can highlight that changes are happening. After three months of lockdown my first walk back across the moss revealed carpets of sphagnum spreading across the bog surface, sparkling with sundews, white-beaked sedge, cranberry and other rare bog species. A break from a site can be very illuminating – less is taken for granted, details are not passed over but observed, walks across the moss become more rewarding.
That first walk was to plan more restoration work, removing invading scrub and damming more ditches. This work has been ongoing going since the site became an NNR and the positive effect of damming km’s of ditches can now clearly been seen. Despite the very dry spring, sphagnum carpets are spreading, two bog specialists – large heath butterflies and northern emerald dragonflies – are turning up in new places and the moss is so wet that waterlogged conditions are causing some invading trees to die.
This is a long-term restoration process using water to rewild and it is tremendously exciting to be have personally been able to watch the recovery of such an amazing place, and to take the bog and the work we do to people through social media, photos and our regular blog. As bogs go, Flanders is one of the wettest and getting to be one of the wildest! Why not come and visit and discover the bog for yourself.
All images ©David Pickett unless indicated.