Restoration Site – Weitshaw Muir (Sorn Estate)


Weitshaw Moss, Sorn Estate

Site summary
Location Weitshaw Muir, Sorn Estate, East Ayrshire
Habitat type Blanket Bog
Grid reference NS564313
Status Part of the Muirkirk and Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area (SPA) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Size (ha) 130

Weitshaw Muir is an area of blanket bog within the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area (SPA) and the Muirkirk Uplands Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). The site is situated just north of the village of Sorn in East Ayrshire and is owned by Sorn Estate, who manage most of the area for upland sheep farming. A number of watercourses including the Cessnock Water, Burn O’ Need, Blairkibboch Burn and the Cleuch Burn cut though Weitshaw Muir and join the River Ayr as it passes the villages of Sorn and Catrine.

Weitshaw Muir is home to specialist bog plants including a good assemblage of Sphagnum mosses, the principle peat-forming plant. There is also cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) as well as heathers and grasses. In areas where the site has seen significant drying, purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea)is dominant. Invertebrates including the large heath butterfly (Coenonympha tullia) have been recorded from the site.

Weitshaw Muir, Sorn 2019© CEI 

An extensive network of drainage ditches had been cut across Weitshaw Muir in days gone by. This has resulted in drying, which has led to dense heather and reduced Sphagnum cover.  A hydrological survey in the winter of 2017-18, which revealed that the ditches were having a significant effect on the bog, and proposed a number of measures to slow water loss and raise water levels. These recommendations were taken forward by the CEI and Sorn Estate in the winter of 2018-19, carefully balancing the conservation work with the Estate’s management of the site for upland sheep farming.

Over-view of peatland restoration work at Weitshaw Muir in the Sorn Estate 2019© CEI 

Between December 2018 and February 2019, specialist peatland restoration contractors Openspace (Cumbria) Ltd. installed over 4,040 dams and water-retaining bunds across a dense network of old ditches to rewet the degraded peatland. Using a low-ground pressure excavator to minimise damage to the sensitive bog surface, the operator installed 3,706 peat dams, 284 small bunds and 37 plastic piling dams and reprofiled over 5.9 km of ditches and peat edges to help re-wet the site. Peat-forming Sphagnum mosses and bog plants can now grow in the blocked ditches and will slowly seal them with new peat. This work will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve local water quality and protect habitat for rare species such as Hen Harriers, Curlew and Large Heath butterflies.

The work carried out at Weitshaw Muir will help to protect and enhance an important peatland habitat. Through our ongoing monitoring work we are expecting to see the water table become more stable following periods of heavy rain or drought. A wetter bog will inhibit grasses and promote increased Sphagnum moss cover, providing a better quality habitat for peatland specialist plants and animals.

It is our aim that by preventing further drying and encouraging active peat formation, the bog will have a net carbon gain, helping to address climate change. A healthier bog may also help to hold water during heavy rainfall and release it more slowly, helping to reduce local flash flooding. By restoring the bog we are safeguarding it for future generations and inspiring people to conserve precious peatland habitats.

Prior to carrying out the restoration work at Weitshaw Muir, CEI staff and volunteers undertook a number of site surveys to build a baseline monitoring dataset. Monitoring activities included breeding bird surveys (following BTO methods) and a Large Heath butterfly timed count (following Butterfly Conservation’s methods) was carried out

Along with the other enhancement sites, CEI staff and volunteers will continue to monitor the habitat’s health and record wildlife seen.  If you would like to find out more about the CEI’s awareness raising, education or volunteer programmes, follow the links or contact Project Manager Scott, on 01563533513 or at info@ea-cei.org.uk.

The enhancement and monitoring work at Sorn Estate was funded as part of CEI’s Nature Network Legacy Project. Nature Network Legacy is funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, INFINIS and the South Ayrshire Waste Environment Trust. The Programme is being part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Union – Ayrshire LEADER 2014-2020.