Impressions of Silver Flowe

 

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?

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Panorama of Silver Flow © Ed Iglehart, 2018

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.

 

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Silver Flowe © Kate Foster, July 2018

 

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.

Judith Archer

 

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.

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Sundew © Kate Foster

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.

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Long Leaved Sundew © Mick Welsh

 

The plants and dragonflies seen during the day reappeared in this playful contribution by Shalla:

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Postcard © 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.

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Area recovering from fire, Silver Flowe © Kate Foster

Amongst the Molinia grass, hummocks of sphagnum moss are re-growing.

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Sphagnum identification © Kate Foster

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.

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Multi-headed sphagnum © Kate Foster 2018

On the second field visit, pools were beginning to appear again after overnight rain.

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Pool on Silver Flowe © Kate Foster

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.

 

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Sink hole on Silver Flowe © Emily Taylor

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.

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Former drain on Silver Flower © Kate Foster

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.

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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.

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Postcard message © McNabb Laurie

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.

 

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For Peat’s Sake: talks at Annan Museum

 

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Emily Taylor (Crichton Carbon Centre) talks about peatland restoration

 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.

I am solely responsible for any inadvertent errors in this blogpost; please feel welcome to leave a comment or contact me by email. Kate Foster  art@meansealevel.net