This week staff and volunteers have been over at Flander’s Moss NNR assisting our colleague Iain, who some of you may remember from his time working at Loch Leven NNR back in 2010.
Everybody needs a change of scenery once in a while, and Flander’s Moss is an excellent place to go, particularly if you like extensive raised peat bogs, beautiful mountainous surroundings, a real sense of wilderness and the assorted botanical and avian interests that the bog has to offer.
On Monday morning volunteer Ivor was on hand to help with bird monitoring duties. He assisted Jeremy with the Wetland Bird Survey in the morning at Loch Leven, during which they saw some interesting records including 24 Scaup, 2 female (redhead) Smew, 2 Greenland White-fronted Geese and 4 Pintail, amongst the other usual suspects. Incidentally, for good views of female and drake Smews, it may be worth a visit to Lochore Meadows, or indeed Loch Gelly, as they have been reported recently at both lochs.
With the WeBS at Loch Leven done, it was time for Jeremy, Steve, Ivor and me to head over to Flander’s Moss for the first of 2 visits to Stirlingshire’s premier National Nature Reserve. During the winter reserve staff and volunteers cover the vast site on a monthly basis to count numbers of Hen Harriers coming in to roost on the bog. Historically, Flander’s has been an important area for Hen Harriers, particularly as they are a declining raptor nationally. Sites in lowland Scotland are few and far between, and numbers of this spectacular bird are unfortunately still in decline, primarily as a result of illegal persecution.
Although the December count that Steve and I did recorded a single female, as well as a Barn Owl late in the afternoon, January’s count, with more counters on site and therefore more extensive site coverage, drew a blank, with only a Peregrine, a (suspected) Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard being recorded across the site, as well as a couple of Ravens near Steve. Whilst we were all disappointed by lack of Hen Harriers, we are also aware that we were never going to see scores of them, and poor weather over the couple of days prior to the count may have kept the birds low and out of sight for the duration.
Our second visit of the week came on Thursday, and was an altogether more uplifting and successful experience! Our team of Wednesday volunteers this year has grown and on Wednesday we were able to take 5 volunteers with us to team up with the Flander’s Moss volunteer team and staff, to tackle an ongoing management task on the peat bog of removing encroaching trees. Trees and scrub are a problem on raised peat bogs because they drink too much water and dry the peat out.
Water needs to remain in the bog in order for many species of rare mosses and other plants of interest can survive, and for the overall health of the bog, which is essentially a giant, permanent carbon store. If a peat bog dries up and dies, it releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, which on a large scale can be detrimental and cause for concern.
Therefore peatland management is essential in order to contain the carbon, and maintain this rare habitat not only for the benefit of the plants, but also for the invertebrates and other animals that live on it, as well as for visitors that come to enjoy its tranquil nature and relative wildness.
With 4 chainsaws and 8 bow saws in action progress was quick, and Iain was delighted at our morning’s work come lunch time.
By 3pm he commented that we’d actually cut twice as many trees as he had expected to get done in the day. It goes to show what a good squad of volunteers can achieve in a short space of time, and it was satisfying to look back and see the fruits of our labour when we visited the fantastic viewing tower once the day’s work was done.
Iain and Steve took the time afterwards to lead us on a short walk around the board walk infrastructure, telling us more about the bog’s history, nature and ecology. The volunteers very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn about what makes this NNR tick, and left feeling that they had contributed a good day’s work to a cracking reserve.