Restoration site – Airds Moss

Airds Moss


Site summary
Location Muirkirk, East Ayrshire
Habitat type Blanket bog
Grid reference NS613252
Status Airds Moss Special Area of Conservation (SAC), part of Muirkirk and Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area (SPA), RSPB Wildlife Reserve, Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Size (ha) 1359.33


Airds Moss is the largest unafforested blanket bog in the South Strathclyde region and is situated within the Muirkirk Uplands between the towns of Cumnock and Muirkirk in East Ayrshire. The entire site is 8km in length and 2.5 km wide. The bog forms part of a wider area of upland moorland within the catchment of the River Ayr.


airds moss map

Airds Moss location (JNCC)

Airds Moss is recognised as being of international importance for its blanket bog habitat and assemblage of breeding and wintering birds. The site has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EC Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) for its Blanket bog habitat, which is an Annex 1 habitat and UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitat. Airds Moss is also part of the wider 26,330ha Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area (SPA) in accordance with the EC Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). The area qualifies as an SPA as it supports breeding and wintering Hen harrier Circus cyaneus, Merlin Falco columbarius, Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Short-eared owl Asio flammeus and Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria. Over 400 ha of Airds Moss is managed as a wildlife reserve by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who aim to improve the condition of the bog and adjacent floodplain habitats for the benefit of wild birds and other species.


Designation Name and other details
SSSI Muirkirk Uplands (part)
SPA Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands (part)
SAC Airds Moss


The SAC designation covers an area of approximately 1300 ha. Around 900 hectares of this is made up of a mosaic of mire communities including M18 – Erica tetralix – Sphagnum papillosum raised and blanket mire and M25 – Molinia caerulea mire.

Viewed from afar, this wild landscape may appear barren, but in reality it is a unique and dynamic habitat that has enormous value to wild plants, animals and humans. The ground is undulating, tussocky and very wet underfoot in places – this is because the bog holds up to 8 metres of peat! Peat has a high water content and is saturated all year round. The peat mass (catotelm) is stored under a living layer (acrotelm) of vegetation made up of a mosaic of spongy bog mosses, cotton grasses and heathers. In the wetter areas of Airds Moss, the acrotelm exhibits surface patterns such as Sphagnum moss hummocks and lawns, and pools of open water. Pools are an excellent habitat for invertebrates such as dragonflies, and wading birds such as Golden plover feed on insects in the lawns and pools.

As well as birds, Airds Moss is home to an array of fascinating plants and animals, including carnivorous sundews Drosera spp., Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos (pictured), White beak- sedge Rhyncospora alba, Adder Viperus berus, Brown hare Lepus europeaus, and Large Heath butterfly Tullia coenonympha (a bog specialist and UKBAP species). See the National Biodiversity Network website to explore Airds Moss biological data.


bog rosemary

Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos flowering at Airds Moss, 2015 © Nic Coombey

Airds Moss has been modified through its historic land-use, which includes grazing, forestry, mining, and for grouse shooting. Drainage ditches have been dug across the site resulting in a drop in water levels, causing drying. This has decreased wet-loving bog plants and increased species such as Purple moorgrass Molinia caerulea and dense, tall patches of heather Calluna vulgaris. As a result the condition of SAC is classified as “unfavourable recovering”.

Positive action is required to bring the bog habitat into favourable condition, and the RSPB and CEI have been working hard over several years to facilitate bog enhancement within the RSPB reserve.

Five phases of bog enhancement work have been carried out at the reserve to date. The CEI worked in collaboration with the RSPB to deliver two phases in 2013 and 2014 as part of the CEI’s Nature Network and EcoCo LIFE (LIFE 13 BIO/UK/000428) projects and will oversee a new phase in 2015. So far, around 250 hectares of ditch blocking has been completed, with a staggering 4000+ peat dams installed across the reserve. The enhancement work is being monitored by RSPB and CEI staff and volunteers, who carry out annual vegetation surveys and bi-annual water level monitoring. Over a number of years, the RSPB will be able to evaluate the success of the enhancement work by measuring changes to the site’s hydrology and ground flora.

In the future, the CEI aim to work with land managers within Airds Moss SAC and adjacent areas to bring the bog habitat into better condition through a combination of practical enhancement work and management changes.


aerial pic airds moss


Aerial photograph of Airds Moss showing peat dams along a network of drainage ditches (captured using a drone) 2014 ©Dave Beaumont, RSPB


The CEI also run an outreach programme, including volunteer activities, awareness events and education sessions with local schools.

education airds moss

Project Officer, Jennifer Dunn, leading an outdoor education session at Airds Moss RSPB reserve in 2014 © CEI


Can I visit the site?

Airds Moss RSPB reserve is not a public reserve due to its size, location, conservation sensitivity and lack of facilities. If you would like to experience Airds Moss, the best way to do so is to volunteer with the CEI and get involved in surveying wildlife, and practical conservation tasks. You can also walk along the River Ayr Way which borders the north of the reserve from Greenockmains bridge eastwards giving you views of the bog and a chance to see breeding birds such as snipe, redshank and lapwing or perhaps even an otter! To find out more please contact the CEI Project Officer, Jennifer Dunn, by telephone on 01563 576771 or by email at

This does not affect any statutory rights of access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act or Land Reform (Scotland) Act legislation.


How can I get involved?

For more information on how to get involved with practical conservation and monitoring surveys on these sites please get in touch with the CEI Project Manager, Daisy, at or click here for more information on volunteer events coming up


The enhancement and monitoring work at Airds Moss is funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, RSPB Scotland and LIFE13 EcoCo LIFE BIO/UK/000428.

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