Looking Back on 2020

Our Perfect Peatlands project began in spring 2020 but we had to wait until July to be able to get out and about to do site visits and make progress with the project. We have been working with a wonderful couple who own part of Glaisnock Moss, a huge area of blanket bog near Skares. Glaisnock Moss contains deep peat deposits, and is home to special plants and animals that are unique to peatland habitats. In the past the bog has been drained and this has lowered the water table, leading to the loss of peat-forming vegetation, growth of dense heather and grasses, and the erosion of natural gullies and watercourses.

Lovely lovely moss! Photos courtesy of Doug Shapley Photography

Glaisnock Moss is a good candidate for restoration because it retains the ‘building blocks’ of a healthy peatland ecosystem, including sphagnum mosses- the main peat-forming plants. The majority of the peatland has surface vegetation overlying the deep peat soils, and the bulk of the drainage ditches can be easily plugged-up with peat dams which will rapidly raise the water table.

Restoring the peatlands natural hydrological function is the first stage in any good peatland restoration project. Bringing the water table up close to the surface allows peat forming plants to flourish whereas grasses and heathers are kept in check. Blocked ditches create wonderful little pools of water which are amazing havens for wildlife such as water beetles and dragonflies. This in turn, attracts birds such as snipe, curlew and golden plover who feed on the invertebrates.

Squeezing Sphagnum moss to demonstrate how the plant holds water.

Glaisnock Moss also has some areas of erosion, which are beginning to expose the underlying peat soil which will start to degrade and carbon will be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nearby watercourses as dissolved carbon. We will work with specialist contractors in 2021 to block ditches using peat dams, and re-profile and dam eroded gullies to create a more natural topography and functioning hydrology at Glaisnock Moss. This will have an immediate effect on the water table but changes to vegetation and wildlife may take much longer. As with past projects we will work with our amazing volunteers to monitor the site’s condition, its vegetation and wildlife including breeding birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

Butterflies, dragonflies, bees and every other wee pollinating beastie is the focus of our other on-going project “Coalfields for Pollinators”. Our wee pollinating insects have huge ecological and economical importance and provide essential environmental services- 90% of the world’s flowering plant species depend on insect pollination and over 75% of the world’s food crops depend directly on pollinating insects.

However our wee friends have been seriously struggling with a 66% decline in moth species and a 75% decline in butterfly species since 1930’s. One of the contributing factors towards continuing native pollinator species decline is the fragmentation and destruction of suitable habitat. Coalfields for Pollinators aims to create and restore native wildflower meadows and provide a “B-Line” of lovely nectar across East Ayrshire’s coalfields area for our wee beasties.

Pollinating insects resting on Scorzoneroides autumnalis in Dalemllington

Since starting in September, I have been as busy as a bee creating native wildflower meadows! It has been a wonderful three months getting out into the beautiful Ayrshire countryside, meeting locals, landowners and like-minded professionals and getting serious about seeds! Since the beginning of September, groups of volunteers and I have managed to sow 2.5ha (around 5 football pitches!!) of beautiful wildflowers on previously unused, unloved and unappreciated ground within coalfield communities in order to increase intrinsic biodiversity values to the area, while immeasurably improving the quality of life to communities and demonstrating how landscapes, wildlife and locals are all connected.

One of CEI’s dedicated volunteers sowing native wildflower seeds at Queen’s Meadow. Photo courtesy of Doug Shapley

Some of our keenest volunteers have come from the local primary schools. Bellsbank Primary School pupils have really taken the reins with meadow creation in their own school and have joined me every week to plant bulbs and scatter wildflower seed in their brand new school playground. The use of native wildflower species in their grounds allows for limitless outdoor education opportunities from essential Early Years Education right through Primary Education.

Dalmellington Primary, eager to improve their concrete patch of playground have planted daffodil bulbs around the edges of the playground and in containers as much as they can, but have also taken to the community with their vision of “Dalmellington in Bloom” and have started working on and transforming The Motte – a site of significant historical importance to the community- with wild bluebells and have future plans for seed scattering and wild daffodil bulbs.

Wildflower warriors at Dalmellington Primary. Photo courtesy of Doug Shapley

CEI have a wonderful database of dedicated volunteers; including students, professionals, retirees, outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts. Each one of our volunteers has their own invaluable skill set and have continued their important work throughout the pandemic supporting CEI. So far, our volunteers have sown wildflower seed at Queen’s Meadow, Craigengillen Estate; Piperhill (a former opencast site) and planted bulbs at Dalcairney Falls. I have been amazed with the continued effort and commitment of our volunteers even in the face of the current pandemic. Each one of our volunteers brings something special and I have had a blast getting to know and working with them and I look forward to continuing our work to bring people, landscapes and wildlife together through beautiful wildflowers in 2021.

CEI volunteer scarifying ground at Piperhill for wildflower seed. Photo courtesy of Doug Shapley

However, the last few weeks have been tinged with sadness. Our wonderful Daisy- Project Manager and friend- is leaving CEI to begin a new adventure in the Cairngorms. Daisy is one of the most genuine and passionate people I have ever met – not just in terms of peatlands, but in life in general! Since I started at CEI Daisy has given me so much support, imparted so much knowledge, and shown me many wonderful things and places. We have wandered the Shire with our coffee and cake, had socially distanced meetings in her greenhouse amongst the cabbage plants, sang with skylarks and danced with hares at Skares, and, of course, laughed our heads off at each other’s silly “Seed Stomp”. Our shared passion for nature is what brought us together as work colleagues, and I can honestly say, after just a few weeks of working with Daisy, she’s leaving as a friend not just a work buddy anymore. Daisy has left an everlasting impression on CEI and me, personally. Her wonderful work in East Ayrshire to reconnect people and their landscapes will be enjoyed by generations to come for a long, long time……..and when all our beautiful flowers that we put down begin to spring up and bloom, then a wee bit of Daisy will forever be a part of our landscape and forever in our hearts. Thank you Daisy.

Daisy just being Daisy. Photo courtesy of Doug Shapley.