Thursday, 14 June 2018

Peatland Biodiversity

Emperor moths thrive in healthy peatland habitats

As we continue to focus on peatland management, we asked Rebecca Crawford of Butterfly Conservation Scotland for a few words on peatland biodiversity - one of the many fascinating aspects of healthy peatland.

Scotland is a nation rich in peatlands which provide a home for a wide variety of highly specialised animals and plants. Many peat bogs in Scotland are known as “mosses” due to the Sphagnum moss which is found on them. Sphagnum moss is one of the most important elements of a healthy peatland, also know as the bog builder. It holds huge amounts of water, much like a sponge, which helps to keep the peat bog wet and also helps to acidify the soil. Its decayed remains eventually turn into new peat which forms under the surface of the bog in oxygen depleted conditions.

Peat can take thousands of years to form and is a vital carbon store, sealing in the carbon that is normally released into the atmosphere when plants decay. When peat bogs dry out the carbon can be released back into the atmosphere. In Scotland it has been estimated that the carbon stored in our peatlands equates to 100s of years’ worth of the country’s emissions from fossil fuel use. It is therefore vitally important to protect bogs from damage and allow them to keep forming active peat and playing their key role for the climate.

There are many moths and several butterfly species that can be found on peatland habitats, some of which have declined in other areas around Scotland.

The Emperor moth is one of the largest species of moth in the UK. The brightly coloured males fly over peat bogs in April and May in search of female moths which are more grey in colour. The eye spot markings on their wings are very striking and are used to deter predators. The large Emperor caterpillars can be found on heather during late summer.

The Large Heath butterfly is the only butterfly in the UK that is specialised to peatlands. Its caterpillar uses Hare’s-tail Cotton Grass as its larval food and during the adult stage Cross-leaved Heath is important as a nectar source. The adults can be seen flying over the bog in the early summer and the colonies are only on the wing for a short time each year with the peak period in late Jun/early July. Peatland habitats are vulnerable to threats such as afforestation, drainage and peat extraction, and this makes the Large Heath highly sensitive to peatland loss. Through peatland restoration we can help to safeguard these habitats for future populations.

The Bog Squad is a Peatland Action funded project managed by Butterfly Conservation Scotland that aims to help restore peatland habitats and promote their value as places where wildlife can thrive.
Our restoration work is aimed at re-wetting damaged bogs, so that natural flora and fauna can thrive and peat formation can take place again in the future. We dam ditches, remove scrub and pull up conifer seedlings. We also carry out monitoring of butterflies and moths. A new strand of the project – Peatlands for People – is helping to raise awareness about peatland habitats and their importance to communities across Scotland.

Find out more about the project by emailing:

* Rebecca Crawford – Peatlands for People –
* David Hill – Peatland Restoration -

* Or visit our blog

Rebecca Crawford works for Butterfly Conservation Scotland as a Peatlands for People Project Officer. Butterfly Conservation Scotland is a charity dedicated to conserving butterflies, moths and our environment. 

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