In the moss rooms

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Flanders Moss NNR

Around the edge of Flanders there are moss rooms. I recently took a walk through a few and these sound, and today look, beautiful places. But 200 years ago it was a different story.

They might sound soft and gentle but the moss rooms were actually places of unrelenting, uncomfortable hard labour. These are the places were the peat was cut to clear it away to uncover the productive clay on the bog floor. 200 years ago many a person spent a wet,  aching, black staining day cutting the peats in the moss rooms of Flanders Moss.

For many hundreds if not thousands of years people utilized the bog landscape of the Carse of Stirling for grazing and cutting vegetation while cutting a little bit of peat for fuel around the edges. But by 1750 the agricultural revolution was taking affect and landowners started looking at the good clay ground under the bogs and devised ways of getting at it. Many methods were used but most involved cutting the peats and getting rid of them as a waste product. A huge amount was flushed down the Forth as a way of just getting rid of it. Some landlords let tenancies to smallholders who had to clear peat as part of their agreement and there were fines if they didn’t clear enough. Other landowners employed direct labour forces. Most pleat clearing happened during the winter when there was more water avaialbe to flush the peat.

In this way, between 1750 and 1850, some 400ha of Flanders Moss was removed, leaving about 850 ha. While to the east virtually all of the 600ha Blair Drummond Moss disappeared and many of the smaller moss along the Carse of Stirling also shrunk in size.

To get an idea of just what an undertaking this was George Moir, a tenant at  Moss-side farm claimed in 1813 to have cleared 11 acres (about 4.5ha) of peat 6 foot deep. Converting it into metric this is about 81 000 cubic metres of peat. A rough conversion to the 1000 ha of peatland cleared from the 2 largest sites Flanders and Blair Drummond makes it about 16,200,000 cubic metres of peat cleared. And this was all done by hand using spades and wheel barrows.

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The peat clearances gradually stopped after 1850 as there was a down turn of agricultural economics. Now the vegetation is claiming back these work sites but it still looks like tools were just downed and the workers had just walked away never to return. Faces of cut peat, ridges of peat piled up to dry, ditches to drain the site and ditches to carry water to the cutting areas of the moss rooms are still to be found, little changed over 200 years except for an developing cloak of vegetation.

200 years ago peat bogs were viewed as just somewhere where you went to work, a place of hard graft, like a working quarry. But today it is almost the opposite and people visit bogs like Flanders Moss for enjoyment, somewhere to escape the hard graft of the everyday world and recharge their batteries.

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