The History of Labrador Tea on Flanders

Flanders Moss is home to many of the plants and sphagnum mosses that you would expect to find on a Scottish bog such as cotton-grass, bog asphodel and cranberry. However the moss is also famous as a site of the labrador tea plant, a relative of rhododendron. The plant is native to North America and how it arrived at Flanders Moss is still debated amongst botanists.

Labrador tea plant

The presence of labrador tea in this area was first brought to the attention of botanists in 1879 during a school wild flower competition. Nellie Geddes, a local cobbler’s daughter found the plant growing in an area close to Flanders but could not identify it. She was determined to win the Bridge of Allan school contest for having the biggest wild flower collection and so she wrote to the director of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in search of help. In the letter Nellie suggested that the plant might be a Ledum (the genus of labrador tea) and stated that it ‘was said to have been found in Ireland and not mentioned as being got in Scotland’. The gardens wrote back confirming that it was labrador tea and it was listed as native to this area.

In 1946 the plant was found on Flanders moss itself by a professor of Glasgow’s Natural History Society. Over the next 45 years the colony of labrador tea on Flanders exploded, increasing from just 6 to 81 individual plants. Although the bushes only occupied a very small area of the moss (0.2%), there was concern over the potential for rapid spread of the colony. Therefore, two Stirling University undergraduate students, supported by SNH, began researching the colony and found that it was expanding by 7% per year.

Despite previously being celebrated as a native plant here, it is now thought that Labrador tea is an introduced species in the UK. Several theories have been proposed for its presence, the most popular of which is that the seeds were carried here by migrant birds or that it was planted.

We now control labrador tea on Flanders to prevent the colony spreading across the bog. The plants are most easily removed by pulling them out by hand and many volunteers have helped in its control over the years. Whilst out this week cutting Christmas trees on the moss we came across the patch which is still growing but is much smaller than before.

Volunteers pulling out labrador tea in November 2015
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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as yesterday was Christmas tree cutting day on Flanders Moss. This is actually an attractively marketed work party where SNH staff go out onto the moss to cut invading Scots pine seedlings that are threatening to take over valuable bog habitat. In payment for a hard day’s graft the participants get to take home what are probably the greenest and most environmentally friendly Christmas trees ever.

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Someone in the group must have had a good contacts or was particularly righteous because the weather was spectacular; the only blue sky day sandwiched between 2 wedges of biblical rain and wind. The moss was looking particularly wet, great from a bog manager’s point of view but hard work for those not used to bog plodding. But the group got stuck in (both physically and mentally) and cut a huge area of seedlings so leaving the moss in a better state that when they arrived.

A handy dead Scots pine provided coat and bags hooks as it was too wet to leave much on the ground. It could become the next art project?

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Steve then carted all of the Christmas trees off the moss on the iron horse – the first outing on the bog for this new machine.

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So, thanks for all those that helped and hope that they enjoy the little bit of Flanders Moss that they will have in their living room over the festive season.

Part of the fun is watching ambitious Christmas trees accommodated into cars. Matt managed this one fine though the drive back may have been a bit uncomfortable.

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10 years a tower

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Flanders Moss NNR

It is almost 10 years to the day that the Flanders Moss viewing tower was opened to the public.

In many ways it has transformed Flanders and the way people see it by changing visitors’ perspective from the human height to 7m above ground level. In this way the whole mighty expanse of Flanders, all 2200 acres, can be seen stretching out with its beautiful bog tapestry of colours.  Though the purpose of the tower was actually to be invisible and frame people’s view of the moss rather than being an attraction in itself, it has become an iconic structure featuring in various guide books and write-ups of the Moss.

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A few facts about the tower:
– the platform is 7 m above the bog surface
– it is a bit like an iceberg as it is longer under the surface than above: the supporting piles go 10m down through the peat into the underlying clay
– it is built mainly of Scottish oak
– the architect was Robin Baker of Baker Associates in Birnam and it was built by Luddons from Glasgow, both relatively local firms
– the design aimed to give people a unique view across the Moss while merging into the landscape
– the overall aim is for people to experience the wide expanse of the Moss without causing any damage to the fragile and hazardous bog surface

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Thanks to Amee

Board visit to flandes

Stirling NNRs

Well, that is it for the time being; Amee has finished in her temporary post as the Reserve Manager for 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands. We are very sad to see her go back to Southern Scotland but I am sure it isn’t the last we have seen of her. And with her usual enthusiasm and energy, what a great job she did over the summer , what with moving Caroline the curlew about, setting up the Dawn Chorus art exhibition, hosting a number of groups on the reserves including the full SNH board, marshaling a full water fight at the Blawhorn summer nature club and numerous other successes.

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So thanks, Amee and come back to the bog soon.

Blackridge gala

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This leaves the Stirling NNR team as Steve Longster, the Yorkshire brains behind the practical side of the operations, Ellen, bringing youth, enthusiasm and knowledge of owls as our Student Placement and me, Dave Pickett, back from the summer working up north. So look out for us and say hello if you are on the reserves.

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‘Ditch’-ing the office for a morning at Blawhorn

On Tuesday Amee, Peter and myself went out to Blawhorn Moss to have a look at the drainage ditches on the north side of the bog. It was great to get out as I haven’t spent much time on the bog at Blawhorn yet, and it was Peter’s first trip to the reserve.

On our way out we flushed two red grouse. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera but we saw signs that they had been around that area.

Red grouse droppings

Amee took us to several ditches across the reserve and pointed out the evolution of damming techniques used.

Ditch damming first began on Blawhorn ~40 years ago and they started by using wooden piles sunk down into the ground. These wooden dams weren’t particularly successful as many of them are now rotten and falling apart. However, they did significantly slow the flow of water off the bog preventing further erosion from happening.

Wooden dam now covered in lichen

When these wooden dams began to fail and water was leaking through they added plastic piling behind them to reinforce the dam.

For the deepest ditches on the reserve, where the flow of water was much faster, steel shuttering was used to block the ditch as it can hold back a lot of water.

Steel shuttering

We were amazed by the size of the largest ditch (pictured below) where there appeared to be the most erosion and limited vegetation growth on top of the exposed peat.

The main aim of these techniques to block ditches is to hold water on the bog and prevent it from flowing off. This should raise the water table and reduce the amount of erosion to the peat.

Peat accumulates at 1mm per year – so it takes 1000 years to form 1 metre of peat! That means that a huge amount of carbon is stored in peatlands and is released when they are damaged. This is why we want to minimise the amount of erosion on the bog.

As well as being a nice day out for us, it is important that we monitor these dams so that we are aware of any improvements that need to be made to ensure that they are still working in the long term.

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Don’t let your Mondays (week) get bogged down!

Loch Lomond, NNR

For all you car commuters, I’m sure you can all relate to the experience of huffing and puffing in the icy mornings and having to factor getting up 10- 15 minutes early to defrost the car. This bitter cold weather we are experiencing is due to an arctic swell but whilst we are waking up to -3 -4 possibly -5, and many complain, I personally would much rather have more days having to get up early to defrost the car (along with my hands) because I know just how bright and beautiful the rest of the day will be. I’d happily have mornings this cold over mornings blowing a gale with rain any day.

My 6 months acting as Dave will come to an end this week. Becoming the reserve manager for 3 National Nature Reserves spread miles apart has been challenging: sadly, getting my hands dirty doing the practical work I love just didn’t happen as much as I’d have liked. I would have loved to tell you that I got out loads and hardly got bogged down with paper work and politics but that would be fibbing…..I suppose that’s what happens when you take on managerial roll. This Monday came and it was -3, so as soon as I arrived in the office, I grabbed the keys and the truck was getting defrosted! I was heading out to Loch Lomond NNR.

Next week will be the first dawn goose count (which I’ll miss ) so I wanted to make sure to capture the beauty which Dave will return to next week. Winter has to be my favorite season on our reserves.

The loch was really low which meant the sand bank was exposed, tracks and trails had me on a goose chase (but no geese were in sight).

In winter Grey wagtail move to lowland areas and can be spotted in farmyards and even in towns. They mainly eat ants and midges which explains them feeding on the exposed areas where the cattle fed through the summer.

Grey Wagtail in flight
Grey Wagtail

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Frosty Flanders

Our toes were just a wee bit chilly last week when we went out to Flanders with the volunteers. The temperature didn’t reach above 2 °C all day – winter has come!

The overnight frost left us with the most spectacular scene on Flanders in the morning. Everything frosted over and it looked like a winter wonderland.

Here are some photos of the morning.

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