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Cotton grass

4th June 23

Last week I revisited the peatland area on Arran that I went to in March (see my previous blog posts). It was a gentle, calm day, perfect for walking up the steep hill, with hazy sunshine and a light breeze. I stopped frequently to admire the views of Brodick Bay and the Holy Isle in the distance, as well as to catch my breath and rest my legs momentarily.

Brodick Bay with Holy Isle in the distance


Further uphill I spotted a large black oil beetle on the path. It was moving slowly, not unlike how I was feeling walking this steep path. I wondered, is it female, carrying a belly full of eggs, looking for the perfect place for them to hatch?

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae climb onto nearby wildflowers and wait for solitary mining bees to collect nectar and pollen. The larvae then climb onto the bee to be taken back to the bee's nest where there will be plenty of eggs, nectar and pollen to feast on. The larva develops in the bee's nest until ready to emerge as an adult oil beetle to start the cycle again.


Black oil beetle


As I climbed higher towards the peat bog area I could see in the distance the hare’s tail cotton grass nodding in the breeze, splattered over the landscape like blobs of white paint, so beautiful.

As well as providing food and shelter for many bogland species including the large heath butterfly, Hare's tail cotton grass has historically been used by people in many ways. During the First World War, it was used to dress the wounds of injured soldiers. It was also stuffed into pillows and mattresses to make them more comfortable. Crofting communities living around peatland areas would use the woolly seed petals as candle wicks.

Once I arrived at the open moorland, I spent some time drawing: the dark mounds of heather with the cotton grass tufts of white in one direction and towards the mountains beyond the peat bog, lines engraved on the hillside. The landscape was so still, so silent apart from a cuckoo’s persistent call coming from the nearby wood.





I’m thinking about how I can represent that cotton grass in some jewellery pieces and have a few quick ideas, nothing fixed yet but that will come later.



And then, what I was hoping to see! Camouflaged in the sphagnum was a little cluster of sundews. I had expected the sundews to be easier to spot but these could easily have been missed nestled in the sphagnum, mutually supportive.

Sundew


Boglands are low in nutrients and the sundew can get more nutrients by being carnivorous. The little dew-like droplets are a mucus-like substance that the plant produces to catch and trap small insects and flies for consumption. Thankfully the presence of these plants is an indication that this habitat is in a healthy condition.


Common heath moth



Tormentil


When I came to leave the bog area to make my way down the hill again, I had that feeling I sometimes get when I leave the shoreline and the sea behind me, in this case, the feeling is that I haven’t quite had enough of this quiet and solitary place.





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