Loch Leven volunteers get a change of scenery

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.

The view over Flander's Moss from the watchtower

The view over Flander’s Moss from the watchtower

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.

Ivor looks out over Flander's Moss

Ivor looks out over Flander’s Moss

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.

Greenland White-fronted Goose- Ian Fulton/SNH

Greenland White-fronted Goose- Ian Fulton/SNH

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.

Hen Harrier (female) - Photo courtesy of David Whitaker

Hen Harrier (female) – Photo courtesy of David Whitaker

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.

The watchtower

The watchtower

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.

Many of the ditches have been dammed in an attempt to retain more water in the bog

Many of the ditches have been dammed in an attempt to retain more water in the bog

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.

Steve leads a work group on site

Steve leads a work group on site

Volunteer Andreas gets on with some bow sawing

Volunteer Andreas gets on with some bow sawing

Volunteer Rod heaving a tree onto the pile

Volunteer Rod heaving a tree onto the pile

David was pleased to be taking some unwanted vegetation home!

David was pleased to be taking some unwanted vegetation home!

With 4 chainsaws and 8 bow saws in action progress was quick, and Iain was delighted at our morning’s work come lunch time.

The interpretation panels feature a section on the need for removing trees and scrub from the bog

The interpretation panels feature a section on the need for removing trees and scrub from the bog

Iain getting stuck in with his saw

Iain getting stuck in with his saw

Craig takes the last tree in the area down

Craig takes the last tree in the area down

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.

Jeremy and Steve took care of the Kelly kettle

Jeremy and Steve took care of the Kelly kettle

...and it was cups of tea all round!

…and it was cups of tea all round!

Caption competition anyone??

Caption competition anyone??

The volunteer duck got a good roasting...

The volunteer duck got a good roasting…

The obligatory team shot!  A good crew indeed.

The obligatory team shot! A good crew indeed.

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.

Iain talking about the special features of Flander's Moss NNR

Iain talking about the special features of Flander’s Moss NNR

...including the astounding variety of mosses!

…including the astounding variety of mosses!

This 7-spot Ladybird also made an appearance

This 7-spot Ladybird also made an appearance

..and a Buzzard gave us a fly-by in the afternoon, as did a flock of over 200 Redpoll, but the camera wasn't to hand for them.

..and a Buzzard gave us a fly-by in the afternoon, as did a flock of over 200 Redpoll, but the camera wasn’t to hand for them.

All smiles at the end of the day on the watchtower.

All smiles at the end of the day on the watchtower.

About Craig.Nisbet

Reserve Officer Loch Leven National Nature Reserve Scottish Natural Heritage
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