Putting the mosses back on the Mosses
Since 1991, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales have been restoring the NNR
to actively growing raised bog.
Raised bog plants and animals can only grow and form peat when acidic, nutrient-poor, stagnant water stands at the peat surface for most of the year and where they are not shaded out by taller plants.
Site staff Joan Daniels, Bill Allmark, Andrew and Paul Huxley and Don Tinsley, together with contractors, many Voluntary Wardens and volunteers, have been removing timber, clearing, pesticiding and disposing of scrub, and controlling tree regrowth and bracken.
The intensive network of peat cuttings has been dammed with peat at around 40 m intervals to restore peat water levels. Metal sheets and U-shaped pipes have been inserted in dams and below tracks to conduct storm water off the site, and slow the rate of water run-off on to surrounding farmland.
Since 1991, an additional 258 ha (638 acres) of mossland has been acquired for restoration. The deep piling of the canal, and diversion of septic tank effluent by partner Agencies, and the additional opportunities and controls gained by extending the SSSI are helping to restore nutrient-poor water quality and wildlife-friendly practices to the bog, but there is still much more to do.
Once smothering trees and scrub have been cleared and nutrient poor water levels are stabilised at the peat surface, bog wildlife responds wonderfully.
Feathery bogmoss has rapidly re-colonised dammed areas, and in spring the re-wetted intensively cut ‘desert’ of Fenn’s Moss is now white with cotton sedge. On restored hand cuttings, tussocks of papillose, Magellanic and red bogmoss, the true peat formers, and cotton sedges are expanding over damp peat surfaces to reform the Moss, and bog rosemary is thriving. Already areas of Bettisfield Moss, stripped of stifling pines, boast white-beaked sedge and glow red in autumn with cranberries. And water fleas and flies beware – lesser bladderwort and sundew now thrive!
In spring the bubbling call of curlew now haunts the Moss, skylark and meadow pipit soar over cleared cuttings, mallard and teal chicks cheep and snipe dart up like silver bullets from winter floods. Now, flying over, greenshank, green sandpiper, golden plover, ruff, whimbrel, dunlin, redshank, spotted redshank, turnstone and oystercatcher no longer see a desert, but a wetland to drop down on – and hen harrier, merlin and peregrine now see them!
Large heath butterflies now are spoilt for choice of cotton sedge tussocks, and brimstone, dingy skipper and many other butterflies abound on opened sunny tracks.
In spring mini-yellow-helicopter four-spot chaser dragonflies abound, and on sunny summer afternoons acrobatic hobbies hawk for dragonflies and midge-fed swifts and swallows, for their chicks. White-faced darters are back from the brink of extinction, breeding in pools with uncountable clouds of other dragonflies where only a few years ago excavators loaded bone-dry peat.
The Moss was lucky! If it had been ‘surface milled’ like many bogs where garden peat is mined, wildlife would have been completely stripped from the landscape, leaving only a black desert. Fortunately it was ‘sod-cut’. Relict bog plants were left scattered, albeit high and dry, every 10 m across the cutting fields, ready to spread once water levels were restored. Also whereas many sites are worked all over, the Mosses’ older, partially re-colonised cuttings have provided a wonderful source of bog seeds, spores and creatures, to spread back on to devastated areas.
Rainwater is the lifeblood of a Moss. On many commercial sites, peat is almost stripped to subsoil and summer water levels plummet, making repair work difficult. Luckily, on the restored NNR, the average 3 m depth of peat remaining gives sufficient ‘sponge’ to tide bog creatures over dry summers, and the recent wet climate has helped to re-soak dry cuttings.
Many other bogs are not so lucky. If you use peat, a Moss has to be destroyed. Bog wildlife becomes more rare and the irreplaceable record of the past is lost. There are now many easily available alternatives to peat – much more successful and reliable than they used to be. Composted bracken, farm manure and industrial vegetable waste, leaf mould, coir and bark products, are all available from local supermarkets and garden centres. And why not make your own compost and help landfill problems?
Why not try an alternative to peat and save a bog!