What about the trees?

Flanders Moss NNR

There’s a question our team gets asked a lot by visitors to Flanders Moss. It’s not a difficult question to answer, but it’s a complex one.

“Are you going to do anything about the trees?”

The short answer is – yes. In fact, we’ve already done a lot about the trees.

The reason this question gets asked is these visitors will probably have learnt that trees on bogs aren’t fantastic for bog health. Simply put – as trees grow, they suck up water from the ground and dry out the peat. Raised bogs are also characteristically very open places with some scattering of trees, but without large swathes of woodland.

So, when people ask this question they may be referring to the Birch saplings around the boardwalk. These days, we’re slowly chipping away at these (almost literally) by removing them by hand. In the past, there used to be many, many more birch trees stretching out into the middle of the bog. So much so that you’d have struggled to see over to the other side, as you can sort of see from the above photo from 2014 – though this was taken from the viewing tower with better vantage.

Since then, these birch have been removed, chipped, and used for damming in perhaps one of the more treacherous areas of Flanders (seriously deep, wide ditches). This larger-scale tree-removal was done by machinery which mulched and flailed the Birch.

July 2011. ©Dougie Barnett/SNH

There is also the fenced-off area you can see to the left as you go clockwise around the boardwalk, or look over from the tower. This is a research area, which has been used for projects looking at carbon emission levels from peat bogs. It’s a relatively small area of trees, and the data that this research generates is valuable for understanding more about carbon and climate change. The picture below shows the area I’m on about, but do excuse the photo quality.

Looking over to the fenced-off research area. Mostly Birch, with a couple of Pines.

Then there are the Pines. Naturally, you do get a few species like Pine on bogs. So, in short, yes we’ll cut small ones as and when we see them. The medium ones get dealt with every December for Christmas tree day. We’ll generally leave the really big ones because, to be brutally honest, they won’t last much longer. The bog is getting too wet for them and they’ll eventually die and break down themselves, as we’ve seen in very wet areas on the West side of Flanders.

The real priority is the Sitka Spruce.

Spruce doesn’t mind lots of water, and it grows so quickly what are now saplings will become much larger trees in just a few more years. There is a chunk of Sitka Spruce plantation over on the North-West corner of Flanders Moss which reached maturity a few years ago, and has since been seeding all over the bog. This is what soaks up a lot of our restoration time, and why we value help with this so much, like last year’s ventures of SRUC Oatridge students.

Students power through the invading Sitka spruce

This blog from almost exactly a year ago – Trees or no trees? – 7000 years a bog – 40 years an NNR – goes into much more detail about the changes that have happened over the years. It’s hard to imagine, but there used to be a forestry plantation right where the boardwalk is today. Now, we have open views to the other edges of the bog.

Our aim is not to remove every tree in sight. That wouldn’t be natural. Besides, bog specialist species need a few trees. The Hen Harriers, Cuckoos and Stonechats need somewhere to perch. Insects and spiders need branches and leaves. Even the Rannoch Brindled Beauty moths need something other than fence posts and Bog Myrtle now and then.

They can live without the Spruce, though.

About Ellie Lawson, NNR Placement

Practical Placement on Stirling's NNRs. Enthusiastic about birds, butterflies, bogs, brochs... and the rest!
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4 Responses to What about the trees?

  1. David McCulloch says:

    Really good to show Before and After photos. I’d forgotten just how many trees have been removed. That coachload of students did an amazing job with the birch a month or two back.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne says:

    Your before and after photographs are great for illustrating this interesting piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Winter is here | 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands

  4. Pingback: Xmas tree day | 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands

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