Spitfire over Flanders

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Flanders Moss NNR

I was out on Flanders all day on Friday taking the water level reading and overhead a spitfire was being put through its paces. It is a converted 2-seater that flies out of Cumbernauld airfield for a couple of weeks at this time of year and by the look of the rolls and loops that it was doing, giving paying customers a seat of the pants ride.
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As I plodded my way across Flanders to the evocative roar of the merlin engine it got me wondering what the bog was like when spitfires last thundered across the skies during the 2nd World War.

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70 odd years ago and from the air the Moss would have looked very different to how it is today and we know this from looking at aerial photographs from that time (above was taken in 1948, you can see the distinctive shape of the lochan and the High Moss Pow) and from the Scottish Peat Survey which surveyed Flanders to see if it was worth digging up to burn to make electricity.

By the 1940’s most of the huge landscape scale peat clearances had already happened so the Moss was about the same size it is now. But the surface of the moss was very different.
From reading the Peat Survey it appears that the whole Moss was still pretty wet. The later 1970’s drainage works hadn’t yet been carried out and the survey records that the surface was mostly covered with the bog loving cotton grass with only a few drier areas with dominant heather.
The Rednock / Pollaby bog in the north-west and the Poldar Moss area had yet to be planted with conifers and while there were mature trees out on the moss the woodland cover was not nearly so extensive as it was in more recent times. The 1948 aerial photograph shows that part of the reason that there were fewer trees is that the Moss was being burnt regularly in patches. This was almost certainly to create ideal conditions for the red grouse shooting that was one of the main activities on the moss. The Peat Survey also refers to the huge breeding colony of gulls that nested for so long on the moss and would have dominated by smell and sound the landscape of the Moss during the summer. These gulls moved on in the 1980’s and no longer breed anywhere near the moss.

In the years since the 2nd World War the Moss suffered extensive damaged by ditching and planting as people tried to make money from the unproductive ground. Luckily it is only in the last 25 years that work to repair the damage has started to bring the moss back to how it was when spitfires first fly overhead.

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1 Response to Spitfire over Flanders

  1. David McCulloch says:

    That explains why I saw a spitfire over Loch Lomond NNR last week! Nice work, connecting the spitfire with what the Moss looked like in WW2.

    Liked by 1 person

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