The struggle for water


Flanders Moss NNR

Flanders is incredibly wet land – it has been named by some ‘the land of water’.  It is hard to believe but back in its history, there wasn’t enough water and though it doesn’t look much, these few rotting lengths of wood with some bolts in represents a struggle to gather water that influenced the very future of Flanders Moss itself.

Back in the 1750s efforts intensified to clear the peat that made up the moss and get to the good farming clay underneath. Peat bogs to the east of the Carse of Stirling were the first to be worked on. After the ice age, as the sea retreated back down the Carse, the east end was uncovered last so peatlands there had the shortest time to grow. Also as they were further down the river catchment there was more water available to be used to flush away the cut peat.

At Blair Drummond Moss, a 600 ha bog a few miles east of Flanders, water was lifted out of the River Teith into ditches to then flush cut peat south into the Forth. In this way almost all of the peat of this huge bog was removed.

Further west and up the Forth, the eastern part of Flanders Moss was in the hands of the Earl of Moray and during winter when rainfall was higher he invested money in paying gangs of labourers to clear huge areas of peat – approximately 200 acres was cleared over 20 years. He too was able to use water from the Goodie Water and directed it via wooden troughs to the cutting area to float the cut peat away.

But the further west you went up the catchment the less water was available for flushing cut peat and also the peat was thicker as it had had longer to form. To create supplies of water, landowners clearing peat used whatever means they could to create reservoirs of water to help with flushing away the cut peat. These old planks are all that remains of a dam put in to hold back water. Oddly in this place the technique used the moss as a reservoir so it was an advantage to keep the moss as wet as possible, just as we do now but for a different purpose. On other parts of the bog a slower, alternative technique was to ditch and drain the moss to dry it out so that the surface could be cultivated then cut and burnt.

To give an idea of the size of the task that these farmers and landowners took on, George Moir of Moss-side farm recorded in the early 1800’s that he cleared 11 acres or 4.455 ha of peat 6 feet or 1.82 m deep which was a total of 81 000 cubic metres of peat, using just handtools and wheelbarrows. And this is just a small patch compared to the total cleared. But always the impediment was having enough water available to clear the cut peat. The landscape scale of peat clearances finally ground to a halt as the economics of farming made it more viable to spend your money draining your existing land with clay pipes to make it more productive rather than clear more land of peat.

So, it is an odd thing that it actually was a lack of available water that saved Flanders, the land of water, from totally disappearing.

The above map shows the east end of Flanders Moss in 1811. The purple is the peat bog, the black line is the edge of Flanders today and the red circle on the left is the location of the dam used to hold back water for flushing of peat.

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