Bog Squad on mission to save butterflies

AN INVASION of dam-builders will set to work this week on Scottish bogs as part of a drive to preserve precious wildlife and battle global warming.

AN INVASION of dam-builders will set to work this week on Scottish bogs as part of a drive to preserve precious wildlife and battle global warming.

A new £50,000 Scottish peatland restoration scheme being unveiled today in South Lanarkshire aims to boost the survival chances of rare butterflies and moths, reduce flooding and protect crucial carbon sinks.

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Work to revitalise and repair damaged wetlands will be a carried out by a dedicated Bog Squad, set up and managed by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation Scotland.

Scotland is home to 40 per cent of the UK’s lowland raised bogs, which are among the rarest habitats in Europe. Many sites are small and isolated within landscapes of intensive agriculture, mostly in the central belt, Aberdeenshire and Dumfries and Galloway.

These acidic mires provide a key habitat for wildlife including the large heath butterfly, a priority species for conservation, the small pearl-bordered fritillary and green hairstreak.

They are also home to rare moths such as the nationally scarce argent & sable, the lunar hornet, Rannoch brindles beauty and wood tiger.

Butterfly Conservation Scotland director Paul Kirkland said: “The lowland peatlands of the central belt are magical places, tucked away and rarely visited, but they can be both havens of peace and oases for fascinating wildlife. Many butterflies and moths that are very scarce in the region can be found in and around these bogs, often in the wet woodland fringes, flitting between birch and willow.

“But to find the true bog specialist, the large heath, you have to carefully venture out on to its watery habitat, amongst the cotton grasses that the seemingly water-resistant caterpillars feed on. A dry bog cannot support the large heath, and so keeping the bogs wet is essential for the future of this very special local resident.”

A large proportion of bogs are in a poor state after being planted with alien conifers, damaged by drainage, used as dumping grounds and stripped of peat for gardening.

Nowadays, however, they have been recognised for supporting biodiversity and providing vital ecosystem services such as flood prevention and carbon storage.

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Bog Squad project officer Sara Green said: “Peatlands are not only beautiful and fascinating places with their own unique wildlife, they also help us to reduce flooding and combat climate change by locking up carbon.

“Now we will be recruiting and training volunteers to help conserve these wonderful ­places.”

A comprehensive survey of lowland raised bogs carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in 2012 estimated restoring all of the nation’s lowland raised bogs would cost £21 million, with around £43,500 being ploughed in to each site.

MSP Aileen Campbell, parliamentary species champion for the endangered large heath butterfly, is today launching the scheme at the Langlands Moss site in East Kilbride.

She said: “I am very pleased to be able to launch the Butterfly Conservation Bog Squad project in my role as species champion for the large heath.

“Peatlands are a very special part of our heritage, as well as being important for wildlife and for providing ecosystem services.

“They are also great places for people to enjoy, and at Langlands Moss local people really value their local peatland.”

Formally established in 1996, Langlands Moss was the first designated local nature reserve in South Lanarkshire.

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It is one of several sites where the Bog Squad will install dams across old drains and control bushes and trees that are sucking out valuable moisture. Up to 20 new dams are expected to be constructed there over a three-day offensive.

The site – a former loch that silted up over thousands of years – has badly deteriorated, with wet areas drying out and paths becoming increasingly waterlogged.

Maureen Potter, who coordinates work at the reserve through the Friends of Langlands Moss volunteer group, welcomed the plans.

“It’s amazing what results can be seen in a very short time,” she said.

“Within a week or two of a new dam going in you can see sphagnum moss reappearing. Rewetting the right areas will lead to a rise in damselflies, dragonflies and amphibians a well as plants such as bog cotton and sundew.”

The Bog Squad will receive £49,585 of funding over the next two years from government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which has estimated that just 6 per cent of the UK’s original 95,000 hectares of the habitat remains in pristine condition – 2,500 hectares of this is north of the ­border.

SNH’s Andrew McBride said: “Peat bogs not only store huge deposits of carbon but are responsible for supporting wildlife and specialised ecosystems. “Without them our natural heritage would be so much the poorer, and that is why we are delighted that Butterfly Conservation volunteers are doing their bit to help restore this fascinating and important habitat. We ignore peatlands at our peril.”

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