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Maol Donn Magic

9th March 2023

Wow! Fantastic walk up to Maol Donn today to see the peat restoration work carried out by the National Trust for Scotland on this magnificent blanket bog in an ancient peatland area. I was accompanied by artist and friend, Katy Penn and guided by National Trust ranger, Kate Sampson.

The Goatfell ridge with a dusting of snow, the mighty blanket peat bog in front of us, a mere 4000 years old.

We walk across this land, being careful to place our steps where we think will be solid enough to take us forward. We stop and Kate, our guide, jumps on the surface of the bog, making the earth beneath us move. There is a sense of us floating on the surface of this waterbed. We look up momentarily from the carpet of spongy sphagnum, what an amazing place this is, a desolate, wild, raw landscape which changes little over time. The mountains majestically overlook the peat bogs. In contrast, tiny details of the bog, carpets of colourful sphagnum moss, Cladonia, matchstick lichen and last year’s bog asphodel, lots for the eye to feast on. Having Kate as a guide was wonderful, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for everything ‘boggy’, as well as pointing out a raven soaring across the sky and the glimpse of a hen harrier in the distance.

Match Stick Lichen

Cladonia (cup lichen)

Kate explains how restoring the peatland involves covering bare peat areas, of man-made ditches, with vegetation and creating dams, which raise the water table and restore waterlogged conditions necessary for sphagnum moss to flourish. The ditches were created over 40 years ago to drain the landscape for grazing. Not only was this unsuccessful, it damaged the natural habitat, causing the peat to be exposed and dry out, making it less able to support the growth of sphagnum moss and resulting in the release of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. Sphagnum forms a blanket of colour and texture across the bog helping to capture and store carbon, making it ideal for helping to tackle climate change. Thankfully the work being done now is aiding the recovery of these precious bogs already.

National Trust for Scotland Ranger, Kate Sampson (right) explaining how the restoration work is done.

Peat bog restoration, filling in the ditches of bare peat and restoring the habitat to its best possible condition

Vibrant green carpet of sphagnum moss

Pools of water and sphagnum mosses, storing water and forming peat.

Sphagnum Moss- a mosaic of colour and texture

I found the steep climb up to Maol Donn a challenge for my wee legs but only managed to fall twice, once behaving like a ladybird landing on her back. Thanks to Kate and Katy I got back up onto my feet fairly quickly. (thankfully no photos of this!)

I will visit again to see the bog in bloom later in the spring and to experience it in different weather conditions.

More on the benefits of peat bogs, and the magic of sphagnum moss in my next blog post.


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