Last chance to see….

Flanders Moss NNR

It is getting to the end of September and as the temperature drops much wildlife is starting to disappear for the winter. So, if you are wanting to see dragonflies or our very own boardwalk dragons, the common lizards, then Flanders is the place to go but you had better pick a warm day and get down there soon or it will have  to be April or May before you will see them again.

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Common hawker laying eggs in pool by the boardwalk

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A black darter checking out the information boards.

 

 

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Sundews – the midge hunters

Flanders Moss NNR and Blawhorn Moss NNR

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Many people know about the bog specialist plant the sundew and how it supplements its diet by catching flies.  It is pretty cool for a plant to eat animals but have you ever wondered just how does it do it? Well, Charles Darwin wondered and his son also and they decided to investigate. With other researchers filling some of the gaps it makes a fascinating story.

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A sundew’s leaf is covered in gland bearing tentacles (or trichomes).  Darwin found that each leaf has an average of 192 tentacles per leaf. There are short ones in the middle of the leaf and longer ones at the edges. These tentacles and the glands on the end of them are the business end of the plant, what the plant does its insect hunting with. The tentacles can move in different directions by changes in cell growth at the swollen base where they meet the leaf. The glands have a number of jobs: they detect prey, they produce the sticky trapping fluid, they secrete the digestive enzymes that dissolve the insect and they also absorb the dissolved bits of insect that the plant can use.

Flanders Moss Sundew 8-13-12

Photo by Peggy Edwards

Darwin wanted to find out the process by which the actually plants caught their prey so he tried placing tiny pieces of meat on to leaves. He found that the tentacles moved towards a piece of meat, the nearest ones first and then the more distant ones. They covered the prey and pressed it close to the leaf. If a prey lands on the edge of the leaf then the tentacles bend the prey towards the centre of the leaf. Tentacles that are stimulated will start moving in a few minutes but the process of the whole leaf’s tentacles moving to the prey can take up to 1 1/2 hours. Glands that are in contact with the prey start secreting more enzymes but you can’t fool the plant to take something that is not food. If the material has nitrogen in it e.g. meat, then the tentacles will hold the prey to the leaf for between 1-7 days for the dissolving process but if the object is inorganic the plant can detect this and releases it in a much shorter period.

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Photo by Peggy Edwards

And these tentacles don’t just work alone. Darwin found that a tentacle that has had its gland removed can’t detect prey but will still move towards prey if tentacles next to it are stimulated. Later research shows that there is actually a small electrical impulse that travels from one tentacle to another so coordinating the whole prey catching process on the leaf.

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It appears that these amazing plants don’t have to eat insects but those that do grow much bigger and more importantly produce far more seeds if they do. A test of sundews on Rannoch Moor showed that up to 50% of the nitrogen in the plant had originally come from insects.

We usually think of plants being passive and just sitting there so I love the idea of a plant actively attracting in its prey and then moving in a coordinated way to trap and eat it. It is a bit like a mini-triffid! And I love even more the fact that 50% of the prey of the sundews on Flanders Moss is made up of midges. All power to them!

Reference – Sexton and Longrigg – Plant Report 2011-2012 – Forth Naturalist and Historian Vol. 35, 2012, p 13-15

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Today at Blawhorn Moss

Blawhorn Moss NNR

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A lovely day at Blawhorn today. Autumn feels like it is getting under way as the colour scheme across the moss changes.

Black darters are still on the wing, at least when the sun comes out anyway, around the pools next to the boardwalk

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During #ScotClimateWeek  it is good to look across the moss and see the contrasting ways of mitigating climate change. At Blawhorn we have been busy wetting up the peatland so locking up carbon and building some resilience in the bog for when the changes come. And the wind turbines on the skyline, you might love them or loathe them, but everyone likes their electronic gadgets and with an increasing demand for electric cars the electricity has to come from somewhere.

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For a breath of fresh air, an escape from busy everyday life and a bit of wildness  close to central Scotland, you can’t beat Blawhorn.

 

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Geocaching at Flanders Moss

Flanders Moss 1-16-11

Flanders Moss NNR

Peggy Edwards has been geocaching for a while and writes below about what it actually is, why people do it and why it is leading people to discover Flanders Moss NNR.

“Over the years I’ve been so impressed with the incredible work done in restoring the bog and with the improvements made in interpretation and access to the bog; the raised boardwalk, the viewing tower, the parking area upgrade and the new benches!

About the same time I first visited the bog, a friend, David Sibbald, and I discovered the recreational activity of geocaching. What is geocaching? In the year 2000 Selective Availability was removed from the Global Positioning System. A man from Oregon, Dave Ulmer, decided to test this and hid a bucket near Beavercreek. His friends found it and geocaching began!

To participate in finding or placing a cache, a “cacher” must join geocaching.com (www.geocaching.com) after which they can download cache coordinates onto a GPS (or use a smartphone geocaching app) and the hunt begins! Caches range from large (the original caches were green ammo boxes) to the tiny magnetic 10mm “nano” caches frequently used in cities. Rules have been established to minimize impact and promote goodwill; events take place regularly, both social and CITO clean up days.

Over the years the activity has grown to be worldwide, extending from Mt Everest to the Antarctic. The highest cache in Scotland is on Ben Nevis, the furthest north at Norwick, Shetland, and the furthest west an Earth Cache at Rockall. Cachers frequently say they would never have known about – even local – places if not for being involved.

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Several years ago David and I had placed a geocache under the bench on the old slate walkway on Flanders Moss. We posted the cache and its coordinates along with information about Flanders Moss on the geocaching website that brought in and educated over 100 visitors to the moss over an eight year period. Last year the cache had to be “disabled” due to the path sinking into the bog!

This summer with the help and advice of David Pickett, we have placed another cache at Flanders Moss, but I won’t tell you where – you’ll have to join geocaching to find out!

Additionally we have posted what is known as an Earth cache up in Thornhill overlooking the carse and Flanders Moss. An Earth cache has no physical container; instead the cacher must answer a series of geological questions in order to claim the “find.” An example question for the Flanders Moss Earth Cache is, “In your opinion should “peat” be classed as a fossil fuel or a biofuel. At what point does would you say it transforms from an organic soil into what we would call a rock? In other words where does peat end and lignite begin? Has any of the peat in Flanders Moss, especially along the lower margins of the raised bog, reached this point?”

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In addition to regular and Earth caches, cachers can also search for multi-stage caches, puzzle caches, and virtual caches. Non-cachers are known as ‘muggles’, people who frequently wonder what you are doing when you are down on your knees looking under rocks; and when a cache disappears it has been ‘muggled’.  Children enjoy the trading aspect of caching; if you find a larger cache with trinkets in it, you may take one out, but must replace it in kind. Kids also enjoy launching ‘travel bugs’ dog-tagged key-chain sized toys sent on missions from cache to cache. One year I had a sheep travel bug make it to Stirling from San Francisco over the course of several months.

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One warning though: once you start caching, you will most likely become hooked! But if the activity brings you to places like Flanders Moss, it is worth every hour spent!”

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All photos and text by Peggy Edwards Sept 2017

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Stump flipping the results

Flanders Moss NNR

It is #ScotClimateWeek so a good opportunity to have a look at why we have had a huge great digger working out on Flanders Moss for the previous 3 weeks. Flanders Moss has had a huge amount of historic damage done to it. This has dried out the peat that makes up the bog and dried peat degrades, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. There is a lot of carbon in Flanders Moss, the equivalent of 2200 football pitches in area and 4-5 m deep. The more of this carbon going into the atmosphere the greater effect on the climate. So how do we stop this process? We get the peat wet again by bringing the water table back to the surface and locking up the carbon in wet peat. The peat is best kept wet by a layer of sphagnum moss (a natural sponge) growing on the surface.  In one area of the moss which was an old plantation the surface wasn’t level enough to get sphagnum to grow. So a himac has been flipping the old stumps and leveling an area of about 30 football pitches. It might not look that interesting at the moment but to a bog manager this is heaven, another bit of Flanders that is heading back to good bog.

 

 

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And we know it works. Below is a bit we prepared earlier (leveling work carried out 2 years ago) and you can see the sphagnum moss expanding out over the bare, now wet, peat healing the bog and stabilizing the water table in the bog. It is a really simple thing but so satisfying. If you get the water table right the bog recovers visibly in front of you. Another successful day at the office.  This is one of the (many) reasons why I do the job!

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All this work is funded by the EcoCoLIFE project that is joining up nature across Central Scotland.

 

 

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Flanders Health Service

P1040398Flanders Moss NNR

We were delighted today to host the Callander ‘Walk in the Park’ health walk group at Flanders.

When we first put a path and viewing tower onto the moss the health potential of the facility wasn’t the first thing we were thinking of. But a flat level path, a viewing tower with plenty of steps and an exhilarating landscape all make the Moss a great place to exercise.

The Loch Lomond Countryside Trust run health walks all across the loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and beyond (more information here) and today it was the Callander group who stepped out at Flanders. It was a good opportunity for me to meet up with them a tell them a bit about Flanders as they marched round. And all rounded off with had a picnic afterwards.

Obviously the exercise and social chit-chat has lots of benefits but we also talked about the health benefits of the some of bog plants, sundews in particular. Folk lore says that the dew of sundew is excellent at prolonging your life span indefinitely so I had to watch the group carefully to make sure none of them were licking the leaves. And as ever there is a grain of truth in the tales from the past, as the dew of sundew is being now developed to benefit tissue engineering and chronic wound healing. More about the potential health benefits of sundews here . So all part of the Natural Health Service!

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Close-up of a sundew leaf.

 

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Walking on the bog

Blawhorn Moss NNR and Flanders Moss NNR

Bogs are pretty soft places to walk and people often ask if they walk out across the peatland will they sink? Well, the answer is mostly no. These types of bogs often have  about 4-5m of liquid peat covered with a surface layer of vegetation. It is this layer of plants that keeps you up but of course there are places where the vegetation is a bit thin or no existent e.g. we have about 30km of ditches across Flanders Moss where there is little or no plants to hold you up. So, here are a few tips if you decide you want to take a walk across one of our bog NNRs.

The surface of the moss is very soft and the vegetation is usually high, made up of heather and hummocks of sphagnum. This means that you tend to end up developing a bit of a funny walk as to make any progress you need a high knee lift and long steps.

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A walking stick is very useful, it gives a third point of contact over an uneven and wobbly surface.

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Avoid the bright green bits – they are often where the vegetation is as its thinnest.

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The tussocks are very useful, they usually give the best support.

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Wear a hat as if you go in a ditch the hat will indicate to others where you went in.

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All of this explains why at both Flanders and Blawhorn we have put in paths and boardwalks so that you can get a full bog experience and enjoy the sights while keeping your feet (and the rest of you) dry and also not damage this soft precious habitat. Why not check them out?

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Some bog inhabitants are better suited to the place than others.

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