Posted by: lensweb | July 14, 2017

Chartley Moss

Chartley Moss

Chartley Moss, Staffordshire, Site of Special Scientific Interest, is the largest example of a floating peat bog, or schwingmoor, in Britain. The sphagnum lawn supports important botanical communities adapted to grow in this environment.

The site is unsafe to visit without an experienced guide due to the danger of disappearing without trace in the dark 16 meter depths of a submerged lake, topped with a meter of Sphagnum Moss and peat.  The bog was formed by dissolving salt deposits in underlying rocks, creating a large hollow which was then filled by ground water, creating an underground acidic lake. The habitat is very fragile, access is restricted to a few specially arranged events each year, so I was very pleased to receive an invitation from the Sinfin Moor Group to join a walk led by Beverley Rhodes.

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We met at Tesco in Uttoxeter and then took the minimum number of cars to the site.  It is about a one mile walk across fields until the official boundary of the site is marked by a Natural England sign and a gate. We then walked through dense woodland of ash, birch, hazel, oak and rowan. Enchanter’s nightshade was flowering, typical woodland plants yellow archangel, bluebell and dog’s mercury were seen and some small balsam was an unusual treat for us.

Wooden bridges  crossed a couple of streams or drains and the ground got damper, then the path became easy to follow as it was lined with birch logs. Tufted hair grass and purple moorgrass were now dominant , there was also wavy hair grass in a strange forest of dead trees.  Past efforts had been made to try to drain the moss and grow pine trees, most of the trees had died. Now realising the value of the scarce habitat efforts are being made to reverse the decline of the moss. Scot’s Pine, birch trees and Rhododendron ponticum are to be removed.

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Splodging and squelching across the wet peat, we admired the pink bells of cross leaved heath on the top of mini-mounds, there was heather, with pink buds showing and low, bunting like trails of cranberry loaded with round red berries. We reached the exact site where David Bellamy, botanist, author, broadcaster and environmental campaigner had dived (live on TV) beneath the peat bog blanket to see what was there, disappointingly, it was too brown and mirky to see anything of interest. Of significance is that now we can stand on it. The Sinfin Moor Warriors did a sort of War dance circling around the green sphagnum carpet, which heaved and squelched and oozed in response.

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Along another secret trail red carpets of round-leaved sundew lay in wait.  On each leaf, hair-like tendrils tipped with sticky droplets trap and digest small insects. The acidic habitats the Sundew lives in don’t provide enough nutrients, so it has evolved this carnivorous way of life to supplement its diet.

Bilberry and cowberry are typical plants of the moorland community and they both have edible berries, bilberries are wild blueberries whereas cowberries are red and often found as lingonberry jam at IKEA. Cowberry leaves are a shining bright evergreen whereas bilberries shed their leaves in autumn. Another evergreen plant is crowberry, and the short thin leaves spiral up the stem like a wire brush. The black berries last all winter, they are edible but taste very sharp and unpleasant.

The princess Andromeda in Greek mythology, was renowned for her beauty and was chained to a rock as a sacrifice for the sea monster. The hero Perseus, flew on his winged horse Pegasus, to save the damsel in distress, but bog rosemary is still chained to the peat. This rare plant has a lovely pale pink pitcher shaped flower and leaves which are narrow and blue green, just like the herb rosemary, but bog rosemary although pretty, is very poisonous.

Beverley had led us to a large pool with a necklace of fine cotton grass and rushes. This is where the dragonflies, the common hawkers, black darters, keeled skimmer and the rare white faced darters may be found, on another day……………

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Re-tracing our footprints we turned toward woodland across big mounded tufts of purple moor-grass, this is known to be a good area for reptiles such as common lizard, slow-worm and adder, but, despite searching, all we found was a common frog. Our Wellingtons plodded back through the dark wood with a lot to think about.

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Chartley has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Ramsar Convention protected wetland site, and a National Nature Reserve but it is in an unfavourable condition of decline.  Natural England are now reversing the decline by taking certain measures. Fields that supply surface water to Chartley Moss, are currently allowed to use farmyard manure after a hay cut but this adds nutrients to the moss.  Other fields supplying run-off water, are tightly grazed by sheep, a longer sward would hold water longer. Pheasants bred on-site, input nutrients and are free roaming, spreading nutrients and eating the reptiles. The plantations, woodland and scrub are drying out large parts of the bog. Tree cover is almost 50% but on the main bog it is supposed to be 5%.  Such high tree cover has an adverse impact on hydrology (and displaces more valuable open bog communities). Cutting the trees down will increase the bog’s surface wetness and Sphagnum cover.  Dredging the ditches creates a conflict between and the short term interests of the white-faced darter and the need for re-wetting for the benefit of the bog restoration. Restoration of hydrology by efficiently damming outflows and felling of trees is considered to be a more sustainable long term remedy.

Marion Bryce 14 July 2017


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