Blog post by Kate Foster
Annan Museum is hosting an exhibition about the the Flow Country from 29 June to 1 September, with a themed programme over the summer. This exhibition covers a variety of topics and was created by the Peatlands Partnership (the lead taken by RSPB Scotland). More information about the Flow Country peatland restoration project in Northern Scotland can be found here.
On Thursday 28 June, the exhibition opened with an excellent series of talks about the past, present and future of peatlands, drawing out the relevance of the exhibition to Dumfries and Galloway.
André Berry, a speaker from Natural England, gave an account of the long history of peat use in Britain and the changing technologies of peat extraction. His examples made links to the collections in the Dumfries and Galloway Museums. In some localities, people continue to use similar techniques to the Bronze Age, as can be seen by the way fingerprints mark stacked turves of peat. Industrial techniques have led to a much increased scale of removal with a move away from feudal obligations and rights, as peat became a commercial commodity. For example, peat became in demand as litter for horses working in the cities. Dutch peat cutting technology introduced a system of drains and rows, with new kinds of hand tools. This in turn was replaced by contemporary large-scale milling techniques. André Berry’s talk helped us imagine how much peat has been taken off the mosses over time and how much this has shaped the landscape. We were alerted to how people continue to diminish wetlands habitat as the landscape becomes industrialised.
Peter Norman, former Biodiversity Officer, pointed to the many areas in Dumfries and Galloway where deep peatland still exists with a mix of blanket and raised bog, such as Nutberry and Lochar Mosses, Kirkconnel Flow and Silver Flow. Accumulating at a rate of 1mm a year, so a metre of peat can build up over a thousand years. Lowland mosses are older than those in the uplands, and so are deeper. Old maps show the former extent of peatbogs – and also that cartographers were inventive in finding symbols for mosses! Different sphagnum mosses are now much better understood, including which ones are important for peat formation – as shown in a Field Studies Council guide. The intriguing spectacle of a Victorian gentleman naturalist taking off his hat to measure a liverwort was invoked by the idea that hat sizes were the metric of this group of plants. Sphagnum continues to be used as wound dressing, and this was a local industry during the first world war. Peter Norman also conveyed the appeal of the special and varied wildlife that has adapted to peatlands, describing some southern species that have both appeared and disappeared in Dumfries and Galloway. For example some bogs have the plant bog rosemary and the now rare birds, nightjars. There are still good populations of adders. Insects such as the large heath butterfly and the Manchester Treble-Bar moth are present, though marsh fritillary butterflies disappeared from Dumfries and Galloway when conifers were planted.
Emily Taylor from the Crichton Carbon Centre gave a lively resume of how some peatlands in Southern Scotland which were mistakenly planted with conifers are being restored and brought back to life (as is happening in the Flow Country). Peatland Action is a national programme that has allowed her team to develop a range of techniques to suit particular land uses; several sites in southern Scotland have already benefited. People’s attitudes change once we understand the association between peatlands and ecosystem services; Emily Taylor inspired confidence that restoration both brings benefits and is achievable, by taking local interests and expertise into account. There are many ways that bogs contribute to ecosystems and our quality of life. Perhaps most importantly, peatlands capture and sequester carbon so their protection is a major factor in controlling climate change. As further examples, well-managed peatland can improve water quality and support healthy fish populations.
In combination, the speakers conveyed an enthusiastic appreciation of the area around Annan, and their fascination for the interconnections between people, peatland and landscape.
The audience showed its interest and commitment through a range of questions. It was agreed that there is a pressing need to join up different aspects of government policy. There were shared aspirations to nurture Scottish peatlands as a valued part of the landscape after perhaps 200 years of industrialised extraction and drainage. Recognising that land use patterns need to change, there were plenty of seeds for optimism that cultural appreciation and ecosystem services can combine.
Future event: Field visit to Silver Flow on 27 and 28 July, 2018
Annan Museum, with the Forestry Commission and the Crichton Carbon Centre, is offering visits to Silver Flow. Numbers are limited – check here for booking details.
The project Peat Cultures aims to record Crichton Carbon Centre’s process of bringing bogs back to life, as an element of the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership programme.
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