The Book in a Box on the Bog

Flanders Moss NNR

Approximately 8000 people visit Flanders Moss every year, from dog walkers and regular locals to international tourists and wetlands enthusiasts. We love hearing from all of our visitors about what brings them venturing out to the bog and what they have seen on our reserves. The boardwalk at Flanders Moss has hosted a rather unassuming wooden box for a few years now that holds the stories and experiences of those that explore the bog.

The bog box beside one of the look-out benches

Visitors can sit on our bench by the boardwalk and take in the view while writing down any observations, experiences or stories in the bog book. The bog box was built and installed at Flanders’s in 2020 with members of the NNR team getting creative during the lockdown and building the box with all reused materials such as a dismantled bridge and old fence posts. Carving done by the hands of another NNR team member, the box has sat proud withstanding the elements and protecting our visitors stories.


As another busy summer draws to a close the pages of the bog book have filled up and the the team are able to reflect upon all the experiences and feedback left by our visitors.

Below is a collection of some of the many stories, observations and creative writings and doodles that have filled the pages of our most recent bog book since the beginning of summer.

A visitor finding humour in exploring rural locations
Visitors from all across the globe

For myself and fellow Seasonal Reserve Officer Emma who are fortunate enough to work on site at the reserves most days and get to spend a lot of time chatting to visitors these bog book entries are heart-warming reminders of the conversations we have with people that come to visit the bog.

For our other reserve team members however the bog book is a rare insight into our visitors experiences and one we all greatly look forward to reading each time the pages are filled. We are so grateful that our visitors continue to share what they have seen, felt and thought on their visits and are excited to see what stories come with the next book.

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Autumn is here and so are the fungi

The transition to autumn is a lovely time to be out on the Stirling NNRs with the bogs, woodlands and river and loch sides transforming daily.  Going about our day to day visits we are treated to an explosion of fungi everywhere.  Although they can appear at other times, autumn does seem to be an especially big feast for our fungi senses.

Fungi let their underground presence be seen by us above ground by producing fruiting bodies.  These bodies come out in many fantastic shapes and sizes with over 2,500 species in the UK alone that have been identified. There are a number of different groups or orders of fungi such as mushrooms, brackets, boletes, bells, puffballs, earthstars, inkcaps to name just some of them.  Some are edible but many will know that fungi varieties can also be highly poisonous so it’s recommended that if you do want to forage for tasty mushroom morsels (or morels!) that you only do so with an expert to guide you.  Also, the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code is a handy guide to ensure you forage responsibly as there is lots of consider to ensure you don’t cause harm unknowingly. 

There are many amazing facts about fungi and their connections with surrounding plants and trees.   Fungi and plants have a mutually beneficial relationship sharing nutrients, sugars and water as well as having a vast communication network made up of tiny fungal connective threads known as mycorrhiza. It’s through these networks that information can be shared such as warnings of particular threats like disease or parasites.  Fungi are also incredible decomposers breaking down decaying plant and organism matter helping the energy in our ecosystems to continue to flow.

The Stirling NNRs host a wide variety of habitats and so there are plenty of opportunities to explore lots of different types of fungi depending on where you look. Here are some just a few profiles of some of the fungi species you might see whilst out and about on the reserves. 

Fly agaric (Amanita musicara)

Type of fungi – Amanita

Looks like – bright red with white spots. 

Known for – The traditional toadstool of fairy tales and for being highly poisonous

Found – usually alongside birch trees but can also be associated with other broad leaf trees and conifers.  Keep your eyes open at Flanders Moss woodland where this little beauty was found.

Galerina sp.

Type of fungi – Bell

Looks like – cap often bell shaped can become convex, longish stems, various shades of browns.  Many of the exact species are hard to individually identify without a microscope

Known for – liking bogs

Found – many are found on and amongst Sphagnum. Keep an eye out at Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss.

Galerina paludosa. Image credit Fr. Kühner

Penny bun (Boletus edulus)

Type of fungi – Bolete

Looks like – a bit like a floury bread roll

Known for – being very tasty

Found – on soil in most types of woodland. Seen at all our Stirling NNRs.

Image credit Jerzy Opiola

Birch polypore or Razerstrop fungus (Fomitopsis betulina )

Type of fungi – Bracket

Looks like – pale, greyish brown with white underside

Known for – in the past was used for sharpening razors

Found – on decaying birch trees. Seen at all our Stirling NNRs.

Image credit Lairich Rig

Credit goes to the Collins Fungi Guide (Buczacki et al 2012) which was used in the writing of this article and this along with the other great field guides out there can be of great help if you are interested in learning more about the fascinating fungi kingdom.

All of the photos in this blog post were taken on the Stirling NNRs in the last few weeks excepting were otherwise credited.

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U3A Natural History Group

Flanders Moss NNR

The Tweeddale U3A (University of the Third Age) Natural History Group came to Flanders Moss last week to learn about the peat bog and it’s wider natural history. Through this guided walk they were able to discover more about the geological and geomorphological history of the creation of the Moss, as well as pick our brains on boggy facts, restoration work and species identification.

It was a beautiful day to talk natural history. The sun was bright but the breeze prevented scorching. It was still enough for the dragonflies to show, some even flying in front of our faces. Swallows and Stonechats swooped and snatched at the insects. Leaf beetles munched away on the birch, and lizards basked along the boardwalk. It’s as if they knew we were coming to admire them.

We had our usual intro up the viewing tower, during which the wooden structure was getting peered at very closely by one of the group – we had a lichenologist among us! As we wandered down to continue our tour around the boardwalk, I learned from this group member that he’d found at least 10 different species of lichen on the viewing tower! On your next visit, see how many different lichens you can spot…I’ll certainly be trying!

Not a cloud in the sky as we spot wildlife from the circuit.

Steve demonstrated the absorbent properties of sphagnum mosses and their role in forming peat. Plus, of course, the peat depth probe got an outing too! The probe shows just how deep the thick layer of peat goes down before you reach the clay underneath. We managed to go down 4-5m on the side of the boardwalk (before we ran out of probe – woops!) but we know parts of Flanders can go up to 8m deep!

Group members getting a closer look at Sphagnum cuspidatum, or the “drowned kitten” moss so named due to it’s soggy, furry appearance when the water is squeezed out.

As mentioned before, the wildlife was out in force. Although we didn’t see any raptors, we did see and hear lots of Ravens, Stonechats, Swallows and Meadow Pipits. Common Hawkers hawked, and Common and Black Darters darted, getting really up close and personal a fair few times. The Sundews, despite the dry weather, were displaying their dewy round leaves nicely and with some flowers still showing.

Another thing that caught our attention was the small birch trees near the boardwalk looking rather brown and crispy. This wasn’t just due to the hot conditions we’ve had. Upon closer look, you can see small, metallic-green beetles nibbling away at the leaves. Without being experienced in beetle identification, it’s heard to suggest what species this is but what we can determine is that it doesn’t seem to harm the trees themselves. A pity, really, since if they did they’d be helping in a bit of birch-clearance and peatland restoration!

Another great opportunity to share the story of Flanders Moss NNR and spread appreciation for this wonderful landscape. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet a new group of people, and a pleasure to learn from likeminded people and folk from varied careers. We even met a mutual acquaintance of our CEO!

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Seasons change

Flanders Moss NNR

We hope you can join us at our next event celebrating the changing of the seasons throughout the year at Flanders Moss NNR. Details below:

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No smoke on the water

Loch Lomond NNR

A whole day of road and water travel, with zero carbon emissions? Surely not, I hear you say.

As part of NatureScot’s commitment towards achieving Net Zero emissions by 2035, electric vehicles are beginning to form the majority of our fleet, with the aim of the whole car and van fleet becoming electric by 2025. The Stirling NNRs team acquired an electric van earlier this year, and we’re loving it. This has been a fantastic way to save emissions since, to get around our three national nature reserves, we do quite a lot of driving!

Even more excitingly, we’ve now got a new boat! And, yup, it’s electric!

The new e-boat during it’s maiden voyage upriver.

Whilst we will keep the diesel-powered boat for longer journeys and backup, this electric riverboat is ideal for, you guessed it, river-boating. Of a summer, we can do a fair amount of river journeys as part of invasive-species monitoring and litter clearing. Loch Lomond is pretty shallow around the mouth of the Endrick river, and the e-boat is great for nipping in and out of the mouth through the shallows.

The boat and trailer are light enough to be towed by the electric van. Hence, our zero-emission day. See, I wasn’t fibbing…

The new electric van and boat, beautifully working together.

It’s also really, really quiet!

Even with the older boat, it’s normally a peaceful experience to potter up and down the Endrick. However, we can’t believe how much more relaxed we felt floating up looking out for Himalayan Balsam and other INNS, with just the gentle hum of the electric motor behind us. Admittedly, silently rocking out to a certain Ocean Colour Scene song planted firmly in my head.

The wildlife seemed more relaxed too! We were getting quite close to some birds before they decided to fly off (one gull didn’t even bother, despite being only about 5m away!). Buzzards swooped above our heads, herons chilled out at the edge of the water, and moorhens – which I’d never seen up river before – flitted around the rushes ahead of us. Bliss.

I promise this video isn’t muted, it really was that quiet!
A spectating crow, which normally would’ve flown off at this distance away had we been using the other boat.

With a decent battery range of around 8 hours, this boat will prove a really practical, wildlife-considerate, environmentally-friendly way of carrying out our reserve management. Along with the electric van, we can be proud to perform our regular work on all three national nature reserves with very low, if not no, carbon emissions wherever possible.

You can read more on NatureScot’s plan to Net-Zero here:

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Dragonfly delight

Last weekend saw us host our Dragonfly Discovery Days at Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss reserves.  It was a pleasure to meet so many curious people of all ages keen to learn about dragonflies and damselflies.  Even though the weather wasn’t perfect dragonfly spotting conditions we were still lucky to see a few of the stars of the show out on the bog either in their adult or nymph forms.

We held an information stall, pond dipping and tours on the days.  Robyn and I were delighted that our resident dragonfly expert and volunteer David McCulloch was available to be there and share his knowledge on the Saturday and it’s fair to say we learned an incredible amount in preparing for the event as well as working alongside David.  My favourite new fact links to a deeper understanding of the emergence process of these incredible creatures from a nymph to their adult form and how as they emerge as an adult their breathing is supported through their nymph bodies by tiny tubes until they break free of their exuvia (shell).  Very cool I thought!

After my thoughts being absorbed by these wonderful species I thought it might be nice to dedicate this week’s blog to some of these residents of our reserves.  Here are some profiles on just a few of the main species you might see out and about either on the reserves or in other local hotspots.

Northern Emerald (Somatochlora artica)

When on the wing: Catch sight of these beauties in June and July although they can be seen right from May through to September. 

Favourite hang out: Loves a boggy shallow pool with abundant moss.  Often seen close to pine or birch woodland.

Distinguishing features: Eyes bright green, yellow spot on either side of the face, thorax metallic bronze-green, dark almost black abdomen.  Males are narrow waisted with wings have a yellow sheen, females have parallel sides. 

Particular traits: Males scoot about erratically low over ponds chasing other males.   They like to forage high in treetops but mate low down.  The female prefers to lay her eggs alone and dips the tip of her abdomen into open water over bog moss or wet peat. 

Status: A rare beauty and only found in very few locations in Scotland.  Flanders Moss being one of these lucky places and sometimes seen from the boardwalk. 

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

When on the wing: Main times are July to September but has a long season with potential from May through to November.

Favourite hang out: Not fussy but likes the lowlands best and seen pretty widely across the UK and is a well known fan of Central Scotland.  Likes watery places but also can be seen away from the wet, perched high up in branches or on brambles. 

Distinguishing features: Males are orangey-red with a slightly waisted abdomen and females are yellow with both having yellow stripes down the legs. 

Particular traits: Loves to bask on sheltered bare ground.  Mating lasts around 10-15 minutes and eggs are laid in flight in tandem.  The tip of the abdomen is dipped repeatedly into shallow water. 

Status: These restless creatures are common and widespread.  Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll likely see them on our bogs. 

Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)

When on the wing: Mostly out and about late summer and can be seen right into autumn.

Favourite hang out: The bogs are a favourite as they like acidic standing water. 

Distinguishing features: These dragonflies are one of the larger species and easily recognised by their bright distinctive colours.  The male has a mix of blue and yellow dots and stripes with a clear waist.  The female is browner with mainly yellow or green spots with not much of a waist. 

Particular traits: These are bold and busy creatures constantly on the move.  Males can be seen scooting around ponds seeking out females and chasing off other males.  Feeding can take place high up in the open and these can be seen at quite a distance due to their size.  Mating can take around an hour and you might see them in their distinctive wheel formation. 

Status: These hawkers are common and widespread.  They should be easy to spot and many can be seen just hanging out at the main Flanders Moss pond. 

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

When on the wing: One of the earliest to emergence in the spring months and seen about through into summer and sometimes autumn.

Favourite hang out: Prefers standing acidic bog pools to fast flowing water. 

Distinguishing features: One of the larger damselflies with black legs and (you’ve guessed it) red bodies and both sexes have red eyes.  The males have black bands and the females can show variations in colour with black banding or yellow shoulder stripes. 

Particular traits: Males emerge first and are fast and aggressive.  Egg laying is done in tandem and in batches of 350.  Curious creatures, they are known to land on people’s clothing. 

Status: Common and widespread and you’ll certainly see them on the bogs at the right time of year

A special thanks and credit go to David McCulloch for all of the above dragonfly images.  All dragonfly facts were checked and inspired by Britain’s Dragonflies, A field guide to the damselflies and dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland (Smallshire & Swash; Princeton University Press 2018).

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Celebrating soil

Flanders Moss NNR

It may not seem obvious, but that brown stuff that lies below our feet is not only incredibly important but it is also very vulnerable to environmental changes.

Soil is often forgotten about, but it’s beginning to gain much more attention from the public and there’s even a whole conference dedicated to the science of soil, run by the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and the International Union of Soil Science (IUSS). I must say, if there’s one way of grabbing the attention of folk to talk soil, it’s an attractive logo… Can you see the faces?

Last week, we welcomed delegates of the 22nd World Congress of Soil Science to Flanders Moss. The event ran from 31st July – 5th August in Glasgow. Why did they come here? Well, to look at some peatland, of course!

Flanders Moss has a fascinating geological history and it even falls within Western Forth Valley Geological Conservation Review (GCR) site, and the Quaternary of Scotland is a designated SSSI feature. The layers of silty clay and peat found below the surface of the bog tell a remarkable story of how changing sea levels in the past have altered the Carse from dry land to estuary and back again.

Peat and clay cores. Peatland restoration demonstration day at Flanders Moss NNR, March 2014. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We began the tour by heading up the tower. Reserve officer, Stephen, introduced the reserve and explained the history of the site – how the raised bog was formed right up to today’s restoration and management of the peatland. Having the view from the tower always helps to put into context the work that we do, as well as give everyone a pretty amazing view of the wider landscape.

Colin from PeatlandACTION then went into detail about the Scotland-wide conservation efforts of the organisation, locking in carbon and tackling biodiversity loss.

Soil Science conference delegates. The maps show the positive changes restoration has made over 23 years.

Of course, you can’t visit Flanders Moss without taking a wander around the boardwalk. This gave everyone a chance to view the peatland up close, taking in the sphagnum moss species, sundews and the wind dropped just enough for us to see some dragonflies at the pond.

Not only did the delegates get to learn more about peat soils and peatland restoration, but us on the NNR team got the chance to speak to soil scientists from around the world. We learnt more about how peatlands differ from country-to-country, and how important soil, as a whole, is for carbon sequestration and how healthy soils are key to fighting climate change.

You can read more on the conference and involved organisations here.

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Plant identification reminds us of the diversity of life on the small scale: a training day on the bog

Flanders Moss NNROur bog is thriving with visitors! Please welcome our guest blogger Liz Ferrell, Peatland Works Supervisor, Forestry and Land Scotland.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) staff might have picked the hottest day of the year for plant identification training on Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve (NNR) but Liz Ferrell, Peatland Works Supervisor at FLS told us why it was worth it.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is responsible for managing our national forests and land and that includes having dedicated National and Regional teams that work collaboratively to restore peatland habitats on the land that we manage. The restoration work that we do today will deliver benefits for future generations and is a key component of Scotland’s combined response to the biodiversity crisis and towards mitigating the Climate Emergency, and it will deliver benefits for future generations.

One of the best ways of gauging how well we are doing is the arrival and spread of plants that thrive in healthy peatland – which is why our Peatlands and Environment Teams were keen to increase their identification skills of key peatland indicator plants.

Ben Averis, Botany and habitat expert, led the training day and showed us a variety of plant species that make a bog their home and why they are so unusual. There were several Sphagnum mosses ranging in colours from greens, yellows, reds and browns and sometimes a beautiful mixture of several! We all enjoyed looking at the plants that make up this habitat as the more we looked the more beauty and diversity of life we found. They ranged from the tiny ants making their way through the moss understorey to the large dragonflies racing across the bog pools.

It was a form of meditation and it was great to be reminded of the health benefits of being surrounded by nature where biodiversity is allowed to thrive. Ben had a fabulous way of talking about the various plants on the bog, it was often poetic as he described the identifying features of Hare’s-tail cotton-grass and Wavy hair grass to name just two. We were identifying different plant characteristics that varied by only millimetres in size.  The smaller plants, like the bog cranberry and round-leaved sundew, appeared to be so delicate that I suddenly felt very guilty about trampling over the ground! Having our noses so close to the ground meant that this miniature world was suddenly visible.

It is always motivating to see sites where we have started the journey towards restoration and to know that even heavily modified peatland habitats can be restored so that they can be a haven for wildlife, and the people who visit them, once more.

Forestry and Land Scotland is one of the Scottish Government agencies involved with Peatland Action. You can find out more about how FLS’ land management at

Thank you to NatureScot’s Amee Hood, Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve Manager, for allowing us to use the site for this training day and to Ben Averis for sharing his knowledge and expertise on identifying peatland plant species.

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Speed bonnie boat

Loch Lomond NNR

Actually to be clear there was no actual speeding!

Following on from Ellie’s last blog about Himalyan Balsam bashing landside at Loch Lomond NNR this last week, I wanted to share our experiences of the reserve from another angle – visiting from the water which we did on the very hot Monday of last week. 

The view heading out of the harbour at Balmaha

This was to be a brand new experience for Robyn and myself as seasonal officers, carrying out reserve officer duties from a boat.  It was a perfect day to experience it, with it being one of the hottest days of the year and we were more than relieved to have a slight breeze on the Loch to take the edge of the intensity of the heat.  We started off the day from Balmaha, packing up the boat with everything we needed; safety equipment, under water scope, tools, litter pickers and bags, plenty of sunscreen and of course most importantly lunch and lots of water. Ellie took the helm of the boat having recently become qualified to navigate and to take groups out and she did a cracking job taking care of us out on the water.  

We started off by investigating the water’s edge along the loch side checking for invasive non-native species such as Crassula helmsii as well as monitoring species of interest such as the freshwater sponge, Spongilla lacustris.  Steve showed us how to do this work from the boat’s edge using an underwater scope as we meandered around the shallow edges of the NNR.  Ellie took special care to give the cattle, having a cool down in the water, plenty of room to stay there undisturbed as well as making sure the boat didn’t get stuck in the shallower edges. 

We then headed up the river Endrick making very slow progress due to it’s many winding bends.  Our primary areas of work up the river is checking for litter and invasive non-native species with Himalayan Balsam being one that can be seen along the banks of the river.  We found very little Himalayan Balsam on the NNR side with just a few small patches which we dealt with along the way.  As Ellie said in her blog this is thanks to all the hard work done in previous years to keep on top of this and this has more than paid off with very little effort now required to stay on top of it. 

Another reason for our trip was to remove litter and debris that had either washed up or typically been left behind from camping or fishing trips.  As it’s summer, there have been more visitors to the NNR and with that sometimes we see behaviour that doesn’t follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC).  The vast majority of people visiting are very responsible and huge nature lovers but not following the Code can have devastating effects putting wildlife and the countryside at risk of serious harm.  Recently, we discovered an abandoned campsite where a tent and chairs had been burned and the large fire was left smouldering alongside a heavily litter strewn site.  It was hard to believe the state of the place and the lack of care for the land and wildlife.  Fires are not permitted on the NNR and with very good reason as there is an especially high risk of wildfires given how dry the land has been.  The levels of rubbish left at this particular (inaccessible by vehicle) site were so much that we had to pile it up by the river for collection later by boat.  At this time of year, camping is also not permitted in this area and campers should be aware of the Loch Lomond camping bylaws.  

Fishing debris can also be an issue and on this particular trip, debris included line that had been caught up in trees as well as old bait boxes and general bags of rubbish.  Fishing is not permitted along this stretch of the Endrick but there are areas further upstream where people can fish and take away their litter responsibly.  SOAC sets out easy to follow guidance and we’d encourage everyone to keep up to date with this and local bylaws as these can change over the years. 

Loch Lomond is a stunning place and seeing the wildlife from the boat is just wonderful.  We saw plenty of birdlife; Osprey, Canada geese, Mute swan, Mallard, Grey heron and even a Kingfisher along the way just to name a few.  Sadly we couldn’t catch the Kingfisher on camera but it was a joy to watch as it flew along the river’s edge weaving in and out of the vegetation along the way.  The heron around the river and loch were easier to photograph and here is just a selection of their pics that I managed to capture. 

Our final part of the trip was to make our way around some of the NNR islands, a chance for us to check on some of the harder to reach parts of the NNR and also for Ellie to put her new boating skills into action opening up the engine in the middle of the loch.  It was amazing to travel across this beautiful loch that until now I’d only seen from the shore.  We had a cracking view of the islands and the surrounding countryside and mountains.  It really is one of Scotland’s most finest places.  It was a pleasure working from the boat and it was a real privilege to see Loch Lomond NNR from a completely different perspective and a day I won’t forget.  

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Now for some real content

Loch Lomond NNR

This is a real blog! Apologies to those who received some unusual ‘test’ email notifications yesterday morning.

I have a brief success story to share. This week, our volunteer, David, and I went for a Himalayan Balsam-bash at Loch Lomond NNR. Previous to this we have been scoping out the usual notorious invasive species gathering spots at Crom Mhin and from the boat up river Endrick, pulling out the odd clumps here and there. It kept us busy, but it definitely shows an improvement from previous years as these clumps were teeny in comparison!

Yesterday’s monitoring was even more surprising. This time we were in the Low Mains area of the reserve, and were struggling to find ANY balsam in the usual spots. Eventually, and unfortunately, we did find one small single plant. Then, after hoping for that to maybe be the only one (yeah, I know…), we did find a clump of 15 plants. Still, 15? That’s a stark contrast to the hundreds that used to be there.

Across the ditch from this area was where we earned our lunch. A large dense swathe of balsam showing a speckling of pink flowers amongst the shrubs and nettles, in amongst a fallen tree. This is a typically troublesome spot, David informed me (he knows the site better than me), so it was no surprise to come across. Though dense, it was a pretty isolated clump and after around 30 minutes, it was clear.

Now what? A traipse over to another area of the reserve, to another usual balsam-bash site, resulted in more pleasant surprise at not just a little amount of balsam…but no balsam at all!

So, we are basking in feeling somewhat in control of this invasive non-native species. It just goes to show that the hard work does pay off. We are very grateful to our team of volunteers who, despite knowing what a grueling job balsam-bashing can be, turn up to fight back against the invasion in order to help protect this important national nature reserve.

The fight isn’t over and we’ll be continuing to monitor the species, as well as other invasives, as I like to say… “You don’t know if you don’t go”.

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