Blawhorn Moss NNR
There is a saying (in our team anyway) that “before you judge a nature reserve you should walk a mile in its wellies”. There is only so much you can glean from screen and paper and to really get a feel for a site, its wildlife, issues, people and importance you have to get out there. So we were really pleased to have Jason Ormiston Head of External Affairs for NatureScot, don his wellies and come out for the day at Blawhorn Moss. It was his first visit to an NatureScot NNR so we were very glad he came to Blawhorn moss, one of the lesser known NNRs.
Work party days like this that allow staff from different offices and NNRs, and NNR volunteers, to work away together while discovering the work of the NNRs are invaluable. As we come out of the pandemic maybe our NNRs have a role to play to let NatureScot staff mix safely, network, contribute to enhancing the biodiversity and be rewilded themselves.
Jason writes about the day:
We’ve all been on holiday and found that being with a knowledgeable guide makes the trip so much better. My day trip to Blawhorn Moss, one of NatureScot’s 29 NNRs was not a holiday, but it was welcome respite from too many hours in front of a PC.
Dave Pickett was our guide. I was keen to understand the engineering behind peatland restoration. But he put us to work first. Our band of NatureScot colleagues and volunteers dived enthusiastically into a small woodland on the reserve to clear protective plastic tubes from a mix of native trees. NatureScot has found a supplier which will recycle these tubes. I got the impression that was no easy task. I can only imagine how many of these tubes have been deployed across Scotland and where they might end up! Anyway, we recovered several hundred along with their wooden stakes, some of these stakes going to a community woodland in nearby Stirling. It was uncomplicated labour, but without people giving up their time it wouldn’t get done. The army of volunteers that support us on our reserves deserve massive credit for everything they do for these special places.
We broke for lunch, and as we did the sun started to break through the dark clouds.
Then we went for our bog walk. Dave spoke about the plans to improve people’s experience when visiting the Moss, extending the boardwalk across the bog and linking up paths in the area. If we improve the experience then we enhance visitor’s understanding of how peatbogs are created and grow. Dave has found that experience – the solace of this wild place – has been a big help to local people during the lockdown. Keep that going, then these important habitats – for animals, plants and storing carbon – will be treasured by more people. Connecting people and nature.
Unfortunately too many peatbogs in Scotland – collectively storing billions of tonnes of CO2 – are in poor condition. Allowed to dry they emit carbon, 7 to 10 million tonnes every year in Scotland. The engineering work at Blawhorn Moss is raising the water table. If water is within 30cm of the surface, sphagnum moss can get a foothold. It is this moss that absorbs carbon and when it dies it does not decompose in water. Over time, this forms the peat, a store of carbon which needs to stay in the ground if Scotland is to hit net zero by 2045. We lunched near a derelict farm steading and I could imagine the unforgiving task of farming the moss hundreds of years ago. This involved digging ditches to drain the landscape and encourage grass growth to feed sheep. It is these ditches that are now being blocked by peatbog engineering, slowing the escape of water (and potentially reducing flood risk downstream) and expanding the dome of peat on the Moss. 1mm a year. Also, in a nod to the past, some sheep are on hand to munch on remaining grass and heather, helping the moss gain a stronger foothold.
Dave talked about how ditch blocking has evolved from using oak and elm, to metal dams, to heavy duty plastic and now to using peat. He talked about how much the sector was learning and developing its expertise by investing millions in peatland restoration through initiatives like NatureScot’s Peatland Action. Essential if Scotland is to get to grips with its national peat challenge.
It seemed to me he starts by reading a landscape, working out how water moves across it and then intervening for nature and climate. A skilled eye.
And as we increased our “bog fitness” on the walk across the moss, removing our raincoats in the sun, the wild flowers, the emperor moth caterpillars and the midge-eating sundew were pointed out by our knowledgeable guide.