Flanders Moss NNR
This is what happens when you start to get interested in bogs – you end up going on holiday to see other bogs. David McCulloch, SNH volunteer and photographer writes about his holiday!
A city break in Riga might not sound like the subject matter for a nature blog, but the city does have a stunning natural asset on its doorstep.
Just one hour by train from Riga lies Kemeri National Park, and in particular the Great Kemeri Bog (Lielais Kemeru tirelis). This raised bog extends to 6,192 hectares, over seven times the size of Flanders Moss NNR. A boardwalk 3.7 kilometres long leads to an observation tower, all built in 2000 following a donation from a private benefactor. The boardwalk now receives 40,000 visitors per year.
Interpretation boards have short Russian and English explanations to supplement the more detailed information in Latvian. Strangely, although there are panels with information on peat formation, birds and plants, there was no information on invertebrates despite the fact that I have never seen so many dragonflies; a few hawkers but mostly what looked like male and female black darters.
The information panels mention that cranberries, crowberries, cloudberries and blueberries can all be found, as well as the omnipresent sphagnum mosses of course. Birds include white-fronted geese, common cranes, golden plover and wood sandpiper.
The parallels with Flanders Moss NNR are obvious but, as well as the sheer scale of the place, there are a number of other important differences, proving there’s no such thing as ‘bog standard’.
Firstly, other bogs nearby appear to have been used for peat extraction, as I saw from the air when flying out of Riga airport. However, the Great Kemeri Bog has largely been protected from that fate because it was used for a rather different commercial purpose. The acid bog water interacts with the underlying dolomitic limestone bedrock to form sulphur-rich waters that appear at the surface in about 30 springs. These waters, and mineral-rich mud, gave rise to the spa resort of nearby Kemeri (part of the wider Jurmala coastal resort) offering therapeutic treatments from the late 18th century onwards. These treatments became popular with Russians during the Tsarist period, and the resort remained popular in Soviet times after a direct rail line between Moscow and Kemeri was opened in 1921. A vast hotel was built in 1936 to service this market, but it went into decline in the 1990s following Latvia’s independence and is now closed.
A second and very visible difference to Flanders Moss is the scattered but extensive tree cover.
The trees are known in Latvia as ‘Parasta priede’, but better known to us as Pinus silvestris or Scots Pine, which is being steadily removed from Flanders Moss as part of the management plan as it is not native. This tree cover can be seen extending across the Latvian bog in the view from the observation tower. I couldn’t see any sign of trees being removed, at least not in the vicinity of the boardwalk.
Only small areas of the Great Kemeri Bog were used for peat extraction, but these have been restored as part of a LIFE project. According to the IUCN Peatland Programme, “The Latvians chose to focus on simply restoring the hydrology within the peat by blocking the drainage channels. No virgin materials such as plastic piling are used, with peat dams being the favoured approach, and the results are encouraging. They took a proactive approach to all other aspects of the restoration such as re-creating a varied micro-topography from the flat surface or introducing a suitable suite of peatland plant species… The peatland seems to be recovering quickly with good coverage of the desired peatland vegetation. Rarities in the UK like the Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) are abundant. We even found Scheuchzeria palustris which is known commonly as the ‘Rannoch Rush’ here in Scotland and only found on a couple of sites within Rannoch Moor!”
Another difference is that the bog is covered in a vast number of pools which form an obvious ‘grain’ when viewed on a satellite image. These pools form when the peat dome cracks, creating voids that fill with water. The boardwalk has to follow a convoluted route around these pools, which makes the walk all the more attractive.
The final difference I noticed was that I didn’t see a single person walking a dog.
If, like me, you’re interested in both nature and culture, why not visit Riga and enjoy a day trip to Kemeri? The train from central Riga takes one hour (and the return trip costs less than four Euros). After a walk of 35 minutes through a pine forest you reach the start of the boardwalk. Just bear in mind this sign in the forest that says “Attention: Ticks!”
Sources of background information
- Interpretation panels on site
- IUCN UK Committee: Peatland Programme – Report of a site visit in September 2017
- The ‘Magnetic Latvia’ and ‘Visit Jurmala’ tourism websites