What do people like about bogs?

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Flanders Moss NNR and Blawhorn Moss NNR

When immersed in the peatland conference a couple of weeks ago I heard a number of presentations about the value of peatlands. Peatlands are actually immensely useful to society in a number of ways, especially in the current situation of changing climate.

I heard about how peat bogs contain lots of carbon and if they dry out they release this into the atmosphere which can make the climate change worse. And by wetting up bogs not only is that carbon locked up but more carbon is taken from the atmosphere as more peat is formed.

Bogs are also good at reducing flooding as they act as a sponge and hold onto rainfall and release it slowly so reducing peak flows in rivers. And with increasing big rainfall events flooding is becoming an increasing problem.
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A vegetated bog with plenty of sphagnum will also release cleaner water than a bare dried out bog. Exposed peat gets washed into streams so lowering water quality.

Bogs are also home to rare wildlife, like the bog sun-jumper spider which is only found on 8 sites across the UK, with Flanders being the main site.

These are all really important things and show how important peatlands are, but it is really only the academics and researchers that get excited about these things.
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But if you ask what everyday visitors to Flanders or Blawhorn like about bogs they almost certainly won’t list any of these things.

What they might talk about is the feel of the place and might use words like:

– wildness, tranquility, beautiful colours, peace and quiet, calming, openness, big skies and wind in the face. Certainly when visitors were surveyed at Flanders these were the reasons given why they visited.

So how people value bogs can be summed up as :

Academics loved bogs for surface and everything below it but everyday visitors love bogs for the surface and everything above it.

It is important that as bog managers we remember that!

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Alfresco lunches

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Flanders Moss NNR
In SNH there is a corporate order to have a minimum 30 minutes for lunch breaks. When working out on site this is not easy in the cold, driving rain and howling wind and at these times the rule is not often followed (hope my line manager isn’t reading this!).
But on good days in the dry and sun then it is a pleasure to be relished.
Last week when putting in support structures to already installed wood-chip dams which is hard work, lunch time was very welcome.
Food eaten outside always tastes good but when the outside is somewhere like Flanders Moss it is even better. There is always wildlife to see – this lunchtime a red kite was being mugged by 2 crows, skylarks passed overhead burbling as they went, a few lone pinkies (pink footed geese) yelped across the sky, worried about their isolation and looking for a crowd, and loose groups of meadow pipits milled around, constantly pee peeing to stay in touch with their mates. Once you stop moving and start looking there is always something to see.

But it is also a chance to think about the work being done – is it going to plan? – is there a better way of doing it? – what needs doing next? If on your own you can enjoy the peace and quiet and your own thoughts on management planning. But if in a work group then there is gentle chit-chat, a bit of mickey-taking, some information exchange and usually some questions answered. In fact when I think about it these lunch breaks can be pretty hard work, (hope my line manager is reading this!).

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Bog holidays

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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Sources of background information

 

  • Interpretation panels on site
  • IUCN UK Committee: Peatland Programme – Report of a site visit in September 2017

http://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/news-and-events/news/peatland-management-and-conservation-latvia

  • The ‘Magnetic Latvia’ and ‘Visit Jurmala’ tourism websites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gannets over Flanders

Flanders Moss NNR

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OK so the picture is very poor, almost to the Darren Hemsley standard of wildlife photography, but it shows gannets flying over Flanders Moss. Gannets are ocean birds that nest mostly on off-shore islands and range hundreds of miles across the sea looking for the fish they feed on so why are these birds over one of the furthest NNRs from the sea?

Gannets over Flanders Moss is actually a more common occurrence than you might think and most years I see them, usually in between August and October. Bu this year they have been seen almost everyday. The nearest gannetry where these birds almost certainly come from is Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. This is the worlds biggest gannetry of Northern gannets with 75 000 pairs. The youngsters that this colony produces have a number of challenges to reach adulthood. First they have to leave the rock and this they do by leaving their parents,  almost falling off their ledges and gliding down onto the sea. This is because they are so fat they can barely fly. This fat layer keeps them going until they can then learn to fly and only once they can fly can they then learn to feed themselves by diving from height into the sea to catch fish. Next they need to migrate because gannets head south for the winter and first year gannets tend to travel the furthest and will spend the winter months off the coast of west Africa (Senegal). With Bass rock producing perhaps 50-60 000 youngsters each year most head south down the east coast of Britain. But as with every population there is variation of behaviours. A few birds have been found to actually travel in the opposite direction and go north and then west around the top of the country. And an unknown number take the middle ground and move from Bass Rock up the Firth of Forth and then cut across the narrow waist of Scotland to the Clyde and then out into the Atlantic. These are the birds I am seeing and they have all been brown all over, the colour of all first year gannets.

Last week I saw birds on nearly everyday – just small numbers between 1 and 5. And it seems they may have several routes across Scotland as there is a paper in Scottish Birds that describes them flying over Falkirk and probably along the route of the Forth and Clyde canal. But during the Peatland Conference held at Balloch when staring out of the window rather than concentrating on the presentation on greenhouse gas emissions of restored peatlands I noticed 3 gannets circling over the Lomond Shores. These are ones that probably came over Flanders, likely along the route of the A811 to Loch Lomond and then down the River Leven to the sea. Little has been written about this overland migration by an ocean loving bird that usually will do anything to avoid flying over land. And it begs a few questions:

– how do they navigate – do they smell the sea? can they see it by gaining height?

– why in groups? – nearly everytime I have seen birds in group – 1 year a group of 30+ went over.

– why head to the west side of the UK?

It will be 5 years before these birds will start breeding, mostly likely at the colony where they were hatched, so Bass Rock, so they have a lot of flying yet to do.

If anyone knows more I would be very interested in hearing from them.

Reference.

Taylor, I.R. – 1977 – Overland passage of Gannets from Forth: Scottish Birds 9 – 298.

 

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Bog mecca

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On Wednesday peaty people from all over the UK came to Flanders to find out what we have been doing to restore the bog.  They were all part of the IUCN conference – Peatland Connections – Building Prosperity and it was a measure of how Flanders is viewed as it was the most popular destination for site visits and in the end nearly 80 people were shown around the site. Attendees were people who were working on peatlands from all over the UK and they got a chance to see a peat working himac installing deep trench bunding, the recovering ex-conifer plantation which is now being taken over by sphagnum and the lagg fen area where we are holding water onto the edge of the bog.

I don’t get out much these days so an event like this reminds me what a special place Flanders is and how the restoration work is helping the bog to recover. But there was just as much interest from the delegates about the way that we have been reconnecting  the bog to the people. From a place that no-one visited before 2006, we have transformed people’s awareness and knowledge of Flanders. Of course Flanders is not perfect (not quite) and feedback was handy, with comments about how more monitoring would be good to capture data on the actual improvement of the site and also how more staff resources would enable this, were useful to hear.

And the event was good encouragement for me to get out more and go and see other peoples sites. There is an awful lot to learn!

 

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Machines on the moss – turning purple to green

P1080144Flanders Moss NNR

Those who are regular visitors might have wondered what those 2 big diggers have been doing on the moss the last week.

Well, the area next to the boardwalk and tower is one of the driest parts of the moss. This is due to historic peat cutting that removal a large chunk of the moss and also ditching on the moss surface. This past damage increases the flow of water off the moss so drying it out, leaving it with a lower water table than most other areas of the bog. From the tower you can see the evidence of this in that there is lots of drier ground loving heather (dark purple) and not as much wet loving sphagnum and cotton grass.

We have already blocked the old ditches but this hasn’t brought about a full recovery so we have turned to the big diggers and deep trench bunding. Sounding a bit like a dramatic medical procedure this actually involves the building of a wall of wet, impermeable peat under the surface around the edge of the moss. This stops water leaking out under the surface through cracks in the peat. A small raised bund is also built to slow the loss of surface water. It is going to be interesting to see if this works and the proof will be if the vegetation in front of the tower turns from purple to green. So watch that space!

All this digger work is funded by the EcoCoLIFE project which is all about connecting up habitats for maximum wildlife and people’s benefit. For more info on the project see http://www.ecocolife.scot

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It takes a special machine weighing 11 tons to travel over very wet bog and only flatten the vegetation!

 

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National Poetry Day – Scotland Small?

Flanders Moss Sundew Drosera rotundifolia 6-26-13 Edwards

Flanders Moss Cross leaved heath and Cotton Grass seed 6-26-13 Edwards

Peggy Edwards, a great supporter of the blog suggested this for National Poetry Day (great photos all by Peggy):

‘Scotland small?’ by Hugh MacDiarmid

Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?

Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliché corner

To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’ where in September another

Sitting there and resting and gazing around

Sees not only the heather but blaeberries

With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,

Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves

Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;

And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep

Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;

And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked

Within living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades

Of yellow, green, and pink; sundew and butterwort

Waiting with wide-open sticky leaves for their tiny winged prey;

And nodding harebells vying in their colour

With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them;

And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour.

‘Nothing but heather!’ ̶  How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!

Flanders Moss Sphagnum 8-9-10 Edwards 01

 

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