And so to bogs… Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time leaping from tussock to tussock, squelching through wet springy moss and sometimes up to knees or thighs in glaur – all while passing through our mountain bogs. When making my way to or from a hill top, I haven’t always observed what’s growing in the boggy bits – you know what it looks like and what it means (getting wet!) but you take it for granted. A visit with friend L to the area just above the Cashel Native Forest on Loch Lomondside a couple of weeks ago gave me a chance to look at some special features of a mountain bog habitat in light of my current John Muir Award efforts to learn more about the natural world – my plan can be seen here. It was beautiful – the dry air vibrated with various buzzings, with the calls and flight of meadow pipits and the more distant ‘seeps’ of buzzards. We saw a ringlet butterfly and a dark green fritillary as well – thanks to iSpotters for supporting me towards clearer ID! The plants were amazing in mid July, we saw bog pondweed, bog asphodel, what I used to call bog cotton (Hare’s-Tail Cottongrass), bog myrtle, heath milkwort and common lousewort (in that order, below). And we saw a lot of moss. The moss is amazing stuff: some mosses can hold many times their own weight in water, they’re like sponges. Dead sphagnum moss can accumulate slowly in an acidic environment where the organisms that normally break down dead plant material cannot live, and it forms layers of peat which can be several metres deep. Many interesting flora and fauna can be found on and above the peatlands, including plants which are carnivorous (they trap flies on sticky hairs of the leaves) to provide additional nutrition needed in the nutrient-poor peaty soils. I’ve not got a photo of a sundew, but we took some of Common butterwort on Mull around midsummer: they’re not very good photos, I am afraid!
Peat bogs currently** act as carbon sinks, so we really need to look after them; and by storing large amounts of water, bogs can slow down run-off and help limit flooding after heavy rain events: both functions are about the cheery topic of climate change and increasing the resilience of natural systems in the face of this challenge. Reversing the effects of previous drainage projects, ending commercial peat extraction and limiting – and making good – the extra erosion caused by overgrazing are all ways to safeguard this useful stuff. See here for news of collaboration to restore peatlands among SRUC, LLTNP and Luss Estates. Objects and indeed bodies can be really well preserved in peat: see here for Ötzi’s story, he is one of several famous European bog bodies.
“Our mountain bogs” is one of the 5 ‘wild challenges‘ in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), Wild Park 2020, where it sets out projects to conserve the biodiversity. BAPs had their origins when some countries committed to take action on threatened species and habitats in the wake of an international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with the UK signing at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
There is a European framework for species and habitat conservation, UK – wide and Scottish protection / conservation legislation and also a Scottish set of priorities responding to the UN CBD ‘Aichi’ biodiversity targets for 2020 (named for the area in Japan where the targets were set during the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity – UN CBD). The ‘Aichi’ targets are short and easy to read: see this webpage for the list of 2o established in 2010. All of the planning around BAPs recognises the positive impact on economies and on wellbeing of conserving our natural capital for the future. Naturally, though, there is concern in some less developed countries about the worldwide importance placed on biodiversity, perhaps, as it might be seen, above food and industrial development.
In Scottish terms, earlier documents on biodiversity gave rise to the so-called ‘biodiversity duty’, a legal duty on public bodies (e.g. local authority, health board); that could be seen as bolstering the efforts set out within the important BAPs. The recent document 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity (published in 2013) ( find it here), states that the Aichi targets of UN CBD 2010, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 (published 2011) “call for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy natural environment provides” because previous targets set for 2010 were not met. A further Scottish Government document, “Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020” (available here) was published in June 2015 and describes priority projects to meet the targets within ‘Six Big Steps for Nature’ (e.g. Step 1: Ecosystems Restoration; priority project: restoration of peatlands). It’s within this context too that we might consider reintroductions of species: after all, restoring the ecosystem and ecosystem services can mean restoring its former members! Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has a section on its website about reintroductions: here, including minutes of meetings of the National Species Reintroduction Forum.
** Update: But for how long? See news from RSPB regarding recent research: climate change threat to uplands
I found reading around BAPs really interesting – I only hope my extreme summary is reasonably accurate! But back to my special John Muir Award area by Loch Lomond: the NP’s other ‘wild challenges‘ are red squirrels; invasive non-native species (INNS); black grouse; and woodland habitat network. It was nice to think about my own engagements with some of these NP conservation causes: I am a certificated sprayer of INNS, and have spent some volunteer days removing rhodies by the lever and mulch method (does your back in!); this year I’ve been fortunate to see lots of black grouse (without getting up early!), all of them males strutting their stuff/white tails; red squirrel are quite easily seen in local forests; and my ‘Track a Tree’ project as part of my John Muir Award efforts involves getting up close and personal with my oak tree and its surroundings as the seasons pass – our woodland habitat network! However, one of the things I increasingly think about is what stage in habitat succession we choose to conserve – and why!