Bog Breathing

Flanders Moss NNR

A new report has just been published that looks a the breathing of a bog and featured Flanders Moss as one of its case studies.

The mass of peat that makes up a naturally formed bog moves or “breathes” through the seasons. And by measuring the amount of bog breathing or surface motion, the state of the peatland can be determined.

The way that bogs move, or breathe, can be influenced by many factors, including precipitation, water level, vegetation composition, micro-topography and land management. . A healthy peatland is wet with lots of soft and spongy sphagnum mosses that swell and retain water. In contrast, drier peatlands are stiffer and unresponsive to the addition of water. The former moves like a beating heart, whereas a degraded peatland could be described as flatlining! And the extent of surface motion can be measured using satellite technology

A collaboration between NatureScot, University of the Highlands and Islands, University of Nottingham, and Forestry and Land Scotland, the research uses Interferometric satellite radar (InSAR), which can map the movement of the ground’s surface – a technique developed with University of Nottingham spinout company Terra Motion Ltd.

By measuring the motion over time, the technique is able to assess the condition of the peatland and the effectiveness of different restoration techniques on a large-scale. If developed on a national-scale, the method could provide a better estimate of the amount, distribution, condition and associated carbon inventories of peatlands in Scotland. With efforts turning to restore peatlands on a large scale as a way of locking up carbon and reducing the effect that degraded bogs have on a changing climate this technique is a means of assessing the impact and effectiveness of this restoration work.

Peatland restoration is a crucial nature-based solution to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, a key priority as we look towards the COP26 in Glasgow later this year and this project gives the chance to compare the effectiveness of different techniques across different sites. Also it can work out how resilient the Scotland’s peatlands are to extreme climate events such as wildfire, drought and extreme precipitation events, which are happening more often as the climate changes.

Flanders Moss was one of the 10 focus sites featured in the report. The research found that overall Flanders Moss appears to show long term peatland surface motion. This compared favorably with stable ‘near natural’ sites showing that all our effort that we have put in to restore Flanders Moss is paying off.

For hundreds of years huge efforts were made to get rid of Flanders Moss. By the late 1980’s 40% of the original peatland had been destroyed and most of the remaining area had been ditches, drained, burned or planted with conifers leaving the moss is a poor state. Since then NatureScot has been working to restore the peatland to a more natural state through conifer removal, ditch damming and slowing the flow of water off the moss.

On the ground we have been seeing the moss get wetter, with sphagnum moss spreading across the previously damaged areas. But where this project is really exciting for us is that it tells us how the whole bog is recovering rather than just surface patches. The find that Flanders is returning to a much more naturally functioning bog after recovering from such damage is hugely encouraging and is a great example to other bog managers who are just starting down the road of peatland restoring on their site.

We still have plenty of work to do at Flanders before we can step back and allow the bog to be fully and naturally functional but it is good to know that the work we have done is heading Flanders in the right direction.

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2 Responses to Bog Breathing

  1. Anne says:

    Another really fascinating and informative article!


  2. peigimccann says:

    Every ounce of your efforts have paid off, thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

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