In a wet country like Scotland areas of mire, the boggy places, are a feature wherever you go. In some areas, such as the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland, bogs can dominate the landscape and these healthy, active bogs can dominate the landscape and these healthy, active bogs are dependent on the bog-mosses, (Sphagna). These remarkable plants not only provide the structure on which the bogs are built but are also beautiful. Each species has its own texture and a distinctive hue, ranging from deep red through orange and ochre to more delicate browns and greens. Though the plants are often lumped together as ‘bog-moss’, there are 34 different species in Scotland, each with its own particular niche, some preferring the bog pools, others the hummocks and lawns in between, while some are not really bog plants at all.
The large bogs contain some of the most ‘natural’ vegetation in Scotland and we have a special responsibility within Europe for this habitat. The ground needs to be permanently waterlogged and the particular structure of the Sphagnum shoots helps to maintain this degree of wetness. Any kind of drainage can upset this process. Some bog-mosses seem particularly susceptible to any disturbance and the presence on a bog of species such as Golden bog-moss Sphagnum pulchrum and Austin’s bog-moss Sphagnum austinii is a good indicator of a relatively undisturbed mire. There are a number of rare species, such as Olive bog-moss Sphagnum majus and Baltic bog-moss Sphagnum balticum, occurring on just a few of the bogs. However there is a large area waiting to be explored and it is just possible that these species are not as rare as we think.
Naturally enough, there are interesting species other than Sphagnum in these mires. In a few select mires in the east, there are olive-green hummocks of the Red Data Book species Waved fork-moss Dicranum bergeri and this area is now the British stronghold for the species. Over in the west of Argyll, a rich valley mire is the habitat for one of Europe’s rarer liverworts, Marsh flapwort Jamesoniella undulifolia, which is also included on a provisional list of the world’s threatened bryophytes. This liverwort creeps through Sphagnum hummocks with just the apex of the shoot visible and it has been lost from a number of sites in Britain as mires have been drained. Bogs are also home to the dung mosses (Splachnum species), growing on the dung of sheep, cattle and deer. The ripe capsule has a smell that attracts dung-flies and, unique amongst mosses, the spores are sticky and adhere to the flies and hitch a lift to the next pile of dung.