2 bogs, a peat swamp forest, and a tiny fish

Flanders Moss NNR

A break from my ramblings now, as colleague Stewart Pritchard has written a lovely guest blog outlining the influence of our bogs at the recent COP26 conference, tropical peatland preservation, and how a piece of Flanders ended up in Glasgow…

The coverage of COP26 in Glasgow certainly highlighted the importance of restoring and protecting peatlands, like Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss, in tackling climate change.

I’m Stewart Pritchard, Nature Reserves Senior Adviser at NatureScot, and I’ve been invited to write a ‘guest blog’ whilst we wait to find out who will be our new Flanders Moss Nature Reserve manager.  I first visited Flanders in the late 1980s when you could wander on to the southwest part of the bog, easily following raised strips of drying peat.  Now, visitors who wish to stay dry are asked to keep to the board walk.

The huge and sometimes alarming-looking changes, and the creativity and effort of reserve managers and volunteers has attracted attention. This year, with COP26 just up the road and much discussion about peatlands, Flanders was again playing its part.  The reserve staff might not have made it to the Blue Zone – but a small piece of Flanders did! 

In the Blue Zone – a multi-sensory experience for delegates.

What reservations I had over carting a piece of Flanders’ soggy turf to Glasgow were soon outweighed by the huge interest it raised.  Anyone for ‘bog sniffing’?  Not an ad for an air freshener – but a new activity born in the Blue Zone.  With 20% of our country supporting various forms of peatland, many of us are familiar with the stuff.  Not so if you’ve come from large parts of Africa, South East Asia, Australasia or the Americas.  So a small square of Flanders helped many of the 30,000 delegates understand what our heads of state, negotiators, environmental groups and lobbyists were talking about.

Flanders also hosted visits by COP delegates.  Firstly from the Global Environment Centre (Selangor, Malaysia) and then by The Nature Conservancy (Gabon) and Edinburgh-based Space Intelligence – and we learnt a lot about tropical peatlands!

The NNR team welcoming COP26 visitors from Malaysia

It seems advances in remote sensing are revealing the much greater extent of tropical peatland.  Perhaps not so surprising as it is typically formed under forest through the accumulation of dead tertiary roots – as ‘peat swamp forest’.  As here, large areas have been converted to other uses (in their case oil palm plantations and paludiculture – the growing of crops on waterlogged soils.  And like here they have realised the damage and are making efforts to restrict the further conversion of peat swamp forest, secure the fragments left amongst plantations and along rivers, and restore what can be restored. 

The size and forested nature of tropical peatlands pose big challenges. In The Congo, with a researcher now at Space Intelligence, they identified a new forest peatland – the size of England!  And in neighbouring Gabon they are now looking to quantify their peatland.  If you visit Flanders, even with a clear view from the tower, you’ll see how hard it is to pick out the four raised mire domes, or appreciate that the peat is 7 to 8m deep – how much harder when the peatland is 10s or 100s of kilometres across – and covered in trees.  Interestingly, lowland peatlands both here and in the tropics have been building since the last ice-age, about 8,000 years ago, and accumulating peat at 1 to 3 mm per year.

At the COP, IUCN – the World Conservation Union along with many others, hosted a Peatland Pavilion which you can visit virtually for more information about the World’s peatlands – with curlews, golden plover and skylarks calling in the background.

And a fascinating factoid to finish – whilst we don’t typically associate fish with our peatlands, our Malaysian visitors explained peat swamp forests host diverse species including, in Sumatra, the World’s smallest vertebrate animal – Paedocypris progenetica which is mature at only 7mm long!

For more about Scotland’s peatlands and their restoration, see Scotland’s Peatland Plan for 2015- 2021.

About Ellie Lawson, NNR Placement

Practical Placement on Stirling's NNRs. Enthusiastic about birds, butterflies, bogs, brochs... and the rest!
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2 Responses to 2 bogs, a peat swamp forest, and a tiny fish

  1. Anne says:

    What an interesting article – thank you!


  2. David McCulloch says:

    I hope that bit of Flanders has been returned to the bog!

    Liked by 1 person

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