Our Conservation Officer on Islay, Angharad, has been out in the sunshine (and sometimes rain!) surveying habitats on our project peatland sites. The information gathered in these surveys is used to help the team monitor the condition of the peatland habitats and create conservation action plans for each site. Peatlands are sensitive to trampling and overgrazing and invasive species such as Rhododendron ponticum, so it is important to do regular ‘health checks’ to make sure the habitats are in tip-top form.
Angharad randomly assigns multiple survey points across each site and visits each point with a big quadrat to conduct the surveys. She lays the quadrat on the ground and takes a peat depth measurement using the new peat probe. The deepest peat record so far is 6.4 m which nearly swallowed the whole peat probe and equates to 6400 years of peat deposition! Angharad also measures the vegetation height, moss cover, area of bare peat, and presence of trees or invasive plant species. The level of grazing in each quadrat is also recorded. This involves looking for evidence of munched heather and rummaging through the vegetation for deer droppings.
These surveys are also a great chance to get up close with some of the wildlife that lives on our peatlands. Hen harriers often fly by for a closer look at what’s going on, and one or two adders have been spotted (and quickly avoided!) on the walk to a new survey point.
The biggest highlight was finding a new colony of rare orchids called Irish Lady’s Tresses near a survey site. Angharad was delighted by the find,
“The exact site will remain secret to keep them safe, but all in all, I was pretty chuffed with the unexpected find, made even better by how pretty they are,” she said,
“This beautiful small wild orchid has small creamy-white flowers coiling in three spirals up the stem. Each flower is in a dense spike, and the sepals and petals are joined to form a lip of a tube!” she described.
These orchids are only known at four locations on Islay. A total of 14 flowering plants were discovered, the greatest number of any single site to date. These plants are quite rare, mainly found in northern and western Ireland and the west coast of Scotland. See this map. Irish Lady’s tresses are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species and are on Ireland’s Red List for Vascular plants.
The Community Peatland Project funded by CANN has been launched at an open day at the Islay Natural Heritage Trust’s visitor Centre in Port Charlotte over the Easter Weekend. The INHT are running this incredible community-based initiative on CANN’s behalf until 2022.
The passport is a booklet that members of the public can use to help them explore Islay and Jura’s peatlands. It has two parts: the first encouraging people to discover the flora and fauna of the bogs, and the second, in conjunction with the Museum of Islay Life, is a section on the cultural history of the peatland and associated artefacts held by the museum. The passport also features a series of suggested walking routes.
The team from CANN partners the Argyll Coast and Countryside Trust (ACT) attended the opening, which featured displays about the peatlands and their importance. ACT input included a great hands-on display of the islands’ sphagnum species and a demonstration of the problems faced in battling the Purple Peril of Rhododendron on the islands. Further training, including plant and moss identification workshops, are planned over the summer.
The team from ASG are great to work with, really professional and luckily, we had some nice weather for their long-awaited visit to Argyll and the Islands. The film crew arrived on the afternoon of Tuesday 13 October and we headed to one of our coastal sites to catch the sunset. There were gorgeous views as we passed through the little village of Portnahaven nearby. We were greeted by crashing waves and barely a cloud in the sky as we got the site and the film crew were in their element, getting a glimpse of some of the best scenery Islay has to offer.
The next day we headed to Eilean na Muice Duibhe, one of our main peatland sites, to look at the rhododendron removal works going on there. The site is partway through the treatment process, so it was a great chance to showcase the effects of the treatment at all stages. We compared untreated Rhododendron, with the browning of bushes that were sprayed two weeks ago, and then the completely leafless remains of those treated last year. Unfortunately, it was a bit too windy to make much use of the drone that the camera crew bought, but they still managed to take it out for a test film, although with a slightly hairy moment when it lost connection in the middle of the bog!
Next up, it was time for the CANN staff to have our 15 minutes of fame! Deb Baker, the Islay Site Coordinator, explained all about the work the CANN project is doing protecting the sites and some background information about Islay, while I talked about local wildlife and the importance of peatland in combating climate change. A few retakes later (OK maybe more than a few!) and we were done for the day, sending the crew off in the direction of a good lunch and more beautiful Islay scenery.
We can’t wait to see the end results