Flanders Moss rewilded by water – 7000 years a bog, 40 years an NNR

Flanders Moss NNR

Flanders Moss recently celebrated its 40 year as a National Nature Reserve, though it has been around for 7000 years. With COP26 due to start shortly and a climate and biodiversity crisis ongoing this anniversary seemed to a good time to look at the history and evolution of Flanders Moss through time. Over this week 5 blog posts will look at the changes of this special place and how it is developing as a nature reserve.

Flanders Moss has been a bog for about 7000 years but only about 40 years a nature reserve. In fact it isn’t quite so clear cut, there was a bog on the Carse of Stirling 11 000 years ago but the final melting of the polar ice caps caused sea levels to rise, flooding the Carse of Stirling and inundating the peatland. Except a few patches of peat grew faster than the rising sea levels and creating peat islands in the flooded estuary. As the sea levels dropped a few thousand years later, following the isostatic rebound, these peat islands spread, joining up with other peat bogs that had started to grow on the former sea bed and so Flanders Moss and a whole number of other peat bogs appeared – one of the largest clusters of lowland bogs in the country.

Over the next few thousand years the fate of these peatlands were in the hands of two different groups of people. Simplified the poorer people utilised the peatlands in a low key way. They grazed animals, used heather, trees, sphagnum and other plants for daily purposes and nibbled small amounts of peat around the edges of domestic uses. The better-off land owners viewed bogs as unproductive so they did their best to “improve” the land by planting with conifers, using them for grouse moors or more commonly just getting rid of the peatlands. Some peatlands on the Carse totally disappeared, others dissappeared under conifers all in the view of making best use of the useless pieces of land. At one time Flanders was surveyed with the view to dig it up for a peat-fired power station and at another was prepared for horticultural peat harvesting but somehow managed to survived both these fates though not is an undamaged state. Parts had been drained, burned, planted and the whole moss was reduced in size by 40% but it still remains one of the largest and most intact bogs in the UK. This is an example of the catastrophic level of damage to peatland habitats across the UK.

But with a diminishing resource the spotlight shone more brightly on the remnant. Naturalists started to realise the wealth of interesting and rare species found there. The Forestry Commission bought a part of Flanders Moss in 1967 with the view of planting it with conifers but in 1973, with great forethought, they were persuaded to sell it to the Scottish Wildlife Trust so it could be managed for conservation. In 1980 NatureScot’s predecessor organisation followed suite and entered into an agreement with Cardross estate to manage another 210 ha of Flanders as a National Nature Reserve. Flanders fortunes were improving, the tide was turning.

As parts were saved for nature the thinking gradually changed. People realized that Flanders was all connected as one hydrological body so to save it the whole thing needed to be protected. In the 1990’s the legal designation extended to cover the whole peat area and NatureScot paid ¬£1.8 million to buy out the planning permissions that existing to dig up part of Flanders for horticultural purposes. With this action the whole of the Moss became saved for conservation.

Since the 1990’s, efforts to restore this magnificnet site have progressed and Flanders Moss has grown into its National Nature Reserve mantle as a site where the water table was rising, the habitats recovering and and people are able to connect with it directly. After all that has been done to the site it cannot return to its former state but by making it wetter, a more natural, wilder state is appearing where natural process can happen. We are rewilding with water.

Read the following blogs to find out more about Flanders Moss’s journey.

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5 Responses to Flanders Moss rewilded by water – 7000 years a bog, 40 years an NNR

  1. David McCulloch says:

    Here’s a question I’ve always meant to ask. What’s the origin of the name ‘Flanders’? It doesn’t have any obvious similarity to Gaelic or Cumbric place name elements.


  2. Anne says:

    I look forward to learning more.


  3. Ladylanders says:

    I did hear a bit of local lore once that the moss was seen as so huge, it was once thought to stretch ‘all the way to Flanders – in France’ but given that it clearly doesn’t (and never did), I think we can discount that one! Could it be any connections to Stirling’s links to the Low Countries, or does the name pre-date those links?? I gather a dialect of Dutch is spoken in the French Flanders.


  4. Pingback: Farewell to a loyal colleague | 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands

  5. I visited recently. What a wonderful place, absolutely loved it. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to make Flanders Moss such a special place.


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