The most important bog in Scottish History

Flanders Moss NNR

A recent article in the Kippen Wee Vine community newsletter about an archaeological dig near the village shone a light on why Flanders Moss is probably the most important bog in Scottish history.

Follow the link to the Wee Vine newsletter here

It is exciting to think of Flanders being on the doorstep of key stages in Scottish history and this is partly down to landscape imapct that Flanders has on the lay of the land.

This new findings from the old fort at Keir Hill of Dasher highlights that fact that Flanders Moss is one of the most important bogs in Scottish history. The geography of this part of central Scotland has hugely influenced the happenings in history and Flanders Moss is right in the thick of it. Back through time the River Forth was a really important boundary, partly because it offered an east -west line that was difficult to cross so making it a feature that could be held for military purposes. And for any army moving north or south the geography offered few options, the hills to the west and the presence of Loch Lomond were difficult to move through. In fact there were only 2 places where you could move large numbers of soldiers and all of the associated wagons and transport needed. Stirling was the best place hence the reason why it has featured in some many strategic battles through history, Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn, Falkirk, Sherrifmuir to name a few. The Fords of Frew that lie just north of Kippen and south of Flanders, was another, as mentioned in this article. It was a place where the river was shallow enough to be able to be crossed at certain times and the wet, sticky, marshy ground of the Carse of Stirling was relatively narrow. To the east of the Fords of Frew used to lie Kincardine Moss, a huge, impassable bog until the early 1800s when it was cleared away to create productive farmland. And to the west of the Fords of Frew lay Flanders Moss, again, bigger than it is today and blocking any progress north. But as armies got bigger and more transport was needed, the Fords of Frew became less important because many times through the year it could be impassable, making Stirling all the more important.

With this recent archaeological dig adding to the picture I think Flanders can lay claim to playing a really important role in Scottish history. Surely the most influential bog in Scotland?

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From the sublime to the ridiculous

Flanders Moss NNR

Working on Flanders can be a mixed bag, especially in winter and this was never more apparent thasn this week with a the work party with a group from the environmental consultants, RSK. Like a few enlightened companies they had given their team a choice to do a volunteering day to make a difference and the Stirling office team decided to spend a day on Flanders Moss helping to remove the Sitka spruce seedlings that are invading the prime bog habitat.

Hard going in the sleet showers

I had to laugh as 3 of the team had just spent weeks working on Rannoch Moor through the winter doing peat depth surveys and drawing up restoration plans and their reward was…a day on another bog! But we got tooled up and started the long walk out onto the middle of the bog. The weather forecast also looked a mixed bag with sun, sleet and rain all predicted. And to be fair the forecast was spot on, we had all of them. The plod out saw us fairly battered by rain but by the time we got to the middle and set up, blue sky appeared, the sun came out and it was glorious. However the next shower could be seen hiding Ben Lomond and soon marched its way across the moss making it seem like someone had switched the lights off for a little when the curtain of sleet swept over us

Lunch was well timed to be taken in the sun which had some real warmth and then another blitz on the Sitka after lunch resulted in the team clearing a huge patch of moss. This was Flanders at its best: strong fare of wild and very wet landscape, a tough work out, wild weather and a bit of wildlife thrown in, with a red kite and a peregrine putting in an appearance. Not everyone’s cup of tea but the RSK team really put in a shift. Do you have a team that could have a go at this? Why not check out an NNR near you and see if they have a challenge where you can make a difference.

The next lot of sleet coming in.
Lots of dead Sitka spruce.
Tired team at the end of the day

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On the bog with the data team

Fiona Hemsley-Flint of the PeatlandACTION team writes about a recent visit to Flanders Moss. And this team LOVES data!

The Peatland Action (PA) data team decided to banish any January blues (and work off some of the Christmas cake) with a trip to Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve (NNR) to find out how Peatland ACTION funded projects had been getting on, and to get a general insight into the various methods of peatland restoration and monitoring that have been used.

We were met by the extremely knowledgeable David Pickett and student placement, Ellen Bird, along with David’s stick-loving dog, Finn. At first I wondered why they had walking poles for a walk involving boardwalks and well-built paths, though I soon found out as we went off the beaten track and knee-deep into the bog itself! Bog trotting (sinking?) is definitely an excellent form of exercise.

David expertly navigated us through the bog to show us the equipment used to monitor water levels. Water level measurements are a key indicator of the health of a raised bog, I was interested to note that it is not about how wet the bog is, but its ability to retain the water during drought periods. A set of 22 monitoring devices, called WALRAGS (Water Level Range Gauges), were deployed across the site over 20 years ago. The construction of these instruments is very resourceful, and would be sure to impress Blue Peter presenters – they are made from old lemonade bottles, drain pipe and a section of measuring tape!

The changing water levels move the lemonade bottle up and down, which in turn moves wooden markers to show the maximum and minimum water levels over the period since the previous inspection. Readings are taken four times a year – usually in April, mid May, end of August and the end of October. 

This provides an extensive historical dataset that can be used for analysing the long term changes in water depth as different restoration procedures have been carried out. The data has been made available for a number of research projects from BSc through to PhD level. 

As the success of the restoration works has increased the overall water level across the Moss, this has meant that some of the WALRAGS are no longer functioning properly as they have reached their upper height limit – David hopes that these devices can be restored and upgraded so that they can continue functioning – something that Peatland Action are happy to support.

More recently (2014/15), 45 electronic monitoring devices were placed along transects which cover different sections of the Moss to monitor water table dynamics in greater detail. Some of these are sited near existing WALRAGS. These loggers produce a very large amount of data with readings every fifteen minutes – these are transmitted to a server in the offices in Stirling, and are also downloaded manually on a yearly basis. These devices can tell us a huge amount about what’s been happening beneath the surface, and Peatland Action data team are looking forward to analysing the results.

After examining these monitoring devices, David took us further through the bog to show us areas where different restoration techniques had been applied – including blocked drainage ditches, and in areas of previous forestry, mulching, ground smoothing and stump flipping. 

He also showed us some ‘untouched’ areas, which unfortunately were still affected by activities in the surrounding area, and are yet to fully recover – these were a little drier than other areas, which made for easier walking, but is of course a sign that the area still needs more time before it is a fully functioning peatland again.

I was also interested to find that low density grazing is still being allowed on the site – a small number of black faced sheep are able to graze during some parts of the year, and they help to keep emerging saplings and heather growth under control. Cattle graze in another part of the Moss, and these also help control vegetation, providing the density of animals and timing is appropriate to the site.

We all had a great day out, and learnt a lot, but what was also important was the conversations that resulted in us identifying ways in which Peatland ACTION could provide more support with the maintenance, collection and management of the monitoring devices and data. And, whilst we all enjoyed the experience, Finn definitely had the most fun.

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Introducing our modern apprentices! Pt. 2

We’ve been lucky to have two extra pairs of hands helping us with various conservation tasks on the bog the past few weeks! Read our last blog to find out about Callander’s Landscape modern apprenticeship scheme and hear about Lisa’s experience working for the partnership. This time we hear from Niall about his experience of the apprenticeship so far and how he’s enjoyed trundling about on Flanders Moss NNR (again)!

Niall

Before I began my modern apprenticeship, I studied Countryside Management at SRUC Oatridge College. I had just finished my last year at Oatridge and was working a supermarket job at the time, so the apprenticeship coming up was excellent timing and a great opportunity for my first employment in the conservation industry. I was feeling a little burned out after 3 years at college, so getting the chance to work for a great team like Callander’s Landscape was really ideal. The opportunities that come with the role, like being able to work with organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry and Land Scotland and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Rangers, are really highlights of my time spent at work.

I’ve managed to get up to quite a lot in the 4 months I’ve been an apprentice, starting out with archaeological digs around Callander which I’d never had the opportunity to do before. I’ve managed to boost other skills like wildlife ID, especially with the WeBS counts we’ve been carrying out with the rangers recently.

The apprenticeship has exceeded my expectations as I’ve got to meet some really lovely and knowledgeable people, along with doing the kind of conservation work I love. Many people come from different backgrounds so you can gain a unique perspective by talking to all of them about their experiences, especially those who have worked in the same site or area for many years. Everyone is always open to help and willing to teach you new things which creates a supportive work environment that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.

My time spent working with SNH I have really enjoyed in particular. Having worked and researched on Flanders Moss during my time in school and college, I was familiar with the site and its significance as an area of conservation value. Getting the chance to work on it again was great; we learned about the conservation value of coppicing and carried out invasive species removal from the bog. I had never got the chance to clear western hemlock before and didn’t realise how easily it spread, so this was a new skill learned.

I’m back at Flanders Moss next week for my last day with SNH (hopefully just for the time being) as part of the apprenticeship, so I’m looking forward to that again.

It’s been great having Lisa and Niall out with us and the volunteers every week and we wish them all the best in the rest of their apprenticeship!

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Introducing the modern apprentices!

Over the past few weeks Callander’s Landscape modern apprentices have been joining us on our weekly volunteer day. Lisa and Niall are working towards a Rural Skills Modern Apprenticeship and Level 2 Award in Cultural Heritage. Much like my student placement with SNH, their paid apprenticeships provide them with “on-the-job” training in both natural and cultural heritage, including formal accreditation. The apprenticeships are part of Callander’s Landscapes heritage skills project which aims to engage and support Callander’s young people through training and apprenticeship opportunities. They have been taking part in our weekly work parties at Flanders Moss NNR to gain practical conservation skills and learn more about habitat management. Lisa and Niall started their apprenticeships in September last year, both coming to the job from very different backgrounds. We asked them to share their experiences as modern apprentices so far and what they think of Flanders Moss!

Lisa

Before I started working for Callander Landscape Partnership, I was working predominantly in Outdoor Education after some years working as a social care worker. I worked in various schools providing activities such as bushcraft, climbing and paddlesports. I also ran a Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme for a local high school. I applied for the apprenticeship as I found myself leaning more and more towards the environmental aspect to outdoor education and became very interested in land management. I had used the landscapes across Scotland for various expeditions and activities but now I fancied learning more about how to look after the countryside, as I think both elements are important to live a sustainable and more conscious life in the outdoors.

I have really been enjoying my time as the work is so varied. We are able to learn on the job, meet new people and work with different organisations. The apprenticeship is run through SRUC Oatridge and so we receive lots of support from there as well as Callander Youth Project and the team at Callander’s Landscape, who we spend most of our time with. There’s never been a boring day on the job yet!

As our apprenticeship covers both cultural heritage and environmental conservation, we certainly get up to a lot! We have found ourselves on archaeological digs, bird and bat surveying and lots of land conservation. The work we do varies monthly however we are usually guaranteed to be assisting with volunteer days in Callander carrying out some work on the local landscape. The role has lived up to my expectations as we are able to learn as we go. There is rarely a classroom day which is great as we both love being outdoors. We are able to meet people from varied backgrounds and work with those from conservation/heritage related organisations too, which is a brilliant asset.

It has been great working with various partner organisations as we are able to gain valuable insight into the real working lives of people in these roles and what is involved in their daily activities. This is really helpful as it can inform the career path we wish to take or the roles we are thinking about going into. Everyone has been really keen to give us as much information and experience as possible and I couldn’t be more grateful. I have really enjoyed working with SNH at Flanders Moss as it has given me the opportunity to work in a unique habitat, one which I initially didn’t think I would enjoy when it came to trapesing through deep bog but actually the more Steve and the others teach us the more I find myself looking forward to the next week. I now really enjoy working on Flanders Moss and becoming more and more aware of the various moss, plant and wildlife species that grow, survive and thrive in this environment has given me a new respect for the area and I can quite happily say I’d be up for a bog day any day!

Hear about Niall’s experience of the apprenticeship in the next blog!

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Pucker Up

Flanders Moss NNR

I had a nice surprise the other day on the western edge of Flanders. In the winter gloom and brown, desiccated vegetation a lone gorse bush was in flower. At this time of year a bunch of bright yellow flowers can do wonders in cheering you up. So I took a little while to look closely at them as it seemed to have been a long time since I last looked closely at a flower. They really are rather striking and as a bonus they smell of coconut. On a warm, balmy summers day the smell can reach you several metres from a bush but on a bitterly cold, damp day you had to get really close to catch the scent. My advice for anyone trying to smell gorse at this season is to do it very, very carefully. It is hard to get your nose close enough to the flower and avoid the vicious prickles. I didn’t.

On the plus side the saying goes that gorse only flowers in the kissing season. Perfect for Valentine’s Day. So after what seems like a long winter, pucker up!

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Happy Valentine's Day

Flanders Moss NNR

This was the sight that I came across a few days back, far out on the Moss. Two smaller balloons tied with plastic ribbon to a larger one that had burst. Not a Valentine as it turns out but a happy birthday to Mum.

Unfortunately whoever was wishing Mum a happy birthday didn’t follow the manufacturers instructions but ended up celebrating a special day by leaving litter that can harm wildlife across an important nature site. Not a great way to show your love for someone special.

Putting these instructions in tiny letters on the balloon obviously made no difference in this case. Maybe it is time for manufacturers to take more responsibility? This balloon isn’t an isolated case. Nearly every time I walk out across the moss I find them, on this particular day there was another two close by.

There are environmentally friendly alternative ways the mark a special occasion – have a look here.

But a lot of these still involve buying stuff – plastic and manufactured items. So why not consider something even more environmentally friendly and longer lasting – like planting a tree – see here and here. You can even mark a special event by making a donation to the work we do at Flanders Moss – here – now that has got to be better than littering a nature reserve with a bit of plastic?

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