This post starts to collate images and messages inspired by the Galloway moss, Silver Flowe. What might be the theme of a postcard from a peatbog?
The panorama above by Ed Iglehart shows Silver Flowe on July 27th after the summer drought had dried out its pools. The river in the foreground is the Cooran Lane.
Silver Flowe is an internationally recognised natural heritage site, being ‘one of the least interrupted and undisturbed mire systems in Europe‘ ( read more here ). It lies a few miles away from Clatteringshaws in Galloway Glens, upstream from sites where Peatland Action plans restoration. On 27th and 28th July, two consecutive field visits were led by Dr Emily Taylor (Crichton Carbon Centre) and Peter Norman (former Biodiversity Officer). These were organised by Annan Museum as one of the Flow Country Exhibition activities. Matthew Cook has described this event more fully elsewhere.
The popularity of the field visits showed that the chance to visit Silver Flowe was valued by people for a wide range of reasons. Some of us began to imagine what a theme for a postcard would be, and these are being collated as part of the Peat Cultures project. This blogpost records some impressions from the field-trip.
Peatlands may be an acquired taste, but they can also become a favourite place to visit, as Judith Archer explained:
After our walk upon Silver Flowe I sat in the car at Clatteringshaws and pondered your question to me, “why do you like bogs?” The following goes some way to answer your question […]
Bogs: a liminal place. Neither water nor solid earth but with characteristics of each. You can walk on [them], like earth, but without the security of having your feet firmly on the ground. Each step gives uncertainty. The “earth ” moves and tips. You could not swim across a bog but you could drown in one. It is a place without balance, I kept losing my balance. It’s tricky, deceptive, dangerous.
Also a bog is open, there are no trees, no shelter, no place of safety.
It is ancient, takes so long to form, getting deeper and deeper. Because of its liminality it becomes a place honoured by Iron Age people, with sacrifices of weapons etc even people. It is therefore a place of treasure, secrets and mystery.
I thought about how a peatbog is a community of plants, and the large scale of what they can create. I needed to look close up and low down.
Sundew steals the show for many people – these are carnivorous plants that consume insects and grow in profusion between the sphagnum mosses and the pools.
The closer you look, the more extraordinary sundews become; we as viewers can be drawn into looking for insects in their grasp. The close-up photo below, by Mick Welsh, shows Long Leaved Sundews ready to pounce.
The plants and dragonflies seen during the day reappeared in this playful contribution by Shalla:
Emily Taylor described the legacy of a fire that swept over Silver Flowe in 2008. Luckily the fire moved quite fast and did not get into the deep peat, but you can still see the impact on what grows – the area has less diversity than the rest of the Flowe and is dominated by long Molinia grass.
Amongst the Molinia grass, hummocks of sphagnum moss are re-growing.
All the different species of sphagnum moss have no roots and are held upright by their fellows. Usually, a strand of sphagnum moss has just one head (called a capitulum). However, the fire burnt the top layer off and the plants in this hummock responded by developing many heads, to become an exceptionally dense ball of moss. Drawing one of its strands let me enjoy its colours as well as it’s shape. Someone was intrigued about how an insect would move within this clump.
On the second field visit, pools were beginning to appear again after overnight rain.
Apart from the bog-pools, walkers must watch out for sink-holes. These are like windows into a complex underground system of running water and peat-pipes underground. The inviting green grass belies the danger – to cattle as well as people. Emily Taylor warned us to keep a good distance.
It takes an experienced eye to see the line of a former drain on the ground, but you can just see a pale line on the Flowe’s surface in the photo below. This drain was blocked as part of a former Peatland Action programme.
No field trip would be complete without sounding the depth of a peatbog! The peat probe helped us observe what we could already feel through our feet – that we were standing on four metres of water held loosely in place by moss.
People also noticed what we did not see or hear. Several of us missed the presence of birds, especially curlews who have until very recently been an integral summer sight and sound on upland wetlands.
The only house in view, the Backhill o’ Bush, is no longer used even as a walker’s bothy. We met no-one apart from the drivers in forest vehicles who were removing equipment. However, as you travel in the area, you see many signs of how the land has been shaped by how people have used it in the past, as McNabb Laurie articulated in the image below.
This blogpost was compiled by myself (Kate Foster) and includes material by Judith Archer, Ed Iglehart, Shalla, McNabb Laurie, Emily Taylor and Mick Welsh. I am solely responsible for any inadvertent errors in this blogpost; please feel welcome to leave a comment or contact me by email.