research project involves recording vascular plants, bryophytes and macrolichens, together with a range of environmental variables, in 200 quadrats in randomly selected upland one km squares. The project aims to investigate the ecological niches occupied by species of Sphagnum
that occur in blanket bog and wet heath in the North Pennines. Results will be applied to hone upland condition assessment methodologies used in the North Pennines and may generate hypotheses for future work. This project is part of a suite of research funded by the Peatscapes Project. Peatscapes aims to conserve and enhance the internationally important peatland resource within the North Pennines (see below for more about Peatscapes).
Bog pool in Novermber!
As the field work was conducted in November, these photos are not very colourful!!
Version of M19 heather/hare’s-tail cottongrass blanket mire with canes marking quadrat extent
Observations so far, from 90 quadrats completed, include:
We anticipated that species such as Sphagnum subnitens
(pictured above) Sphagnum tenellum
and Sphagnum compactum
may be associated with blanket bog in poor or damaged condition in the North Pennines and so would be useful as negative indicator species. It is surprising that, so far, two of these species were found rarely and Sphagnum compactum
was not found at all.
Overall more of the blanket bog in the North Pennines appears to be in reasonably good condition (i.e. with active peat formation) than we had anticipated.
The predominant type of blanket bog vegetation in the North Pennines AONB is the ‘M19heather/hare’s-tail cottongrass blanket mire’ community. Much of this vegetation, which is apparently in good condition, is quite species-poor and often has a low cover of Sphagnum.
Heather Calluna vulgaris
and hare’s-tail cottongrass Eriophorum vaginatum
are often the dominant plants and, where they are very abundant, these species allow little space for other bog species to coexist with them.
Areas that have been ‘damaged’ in some way (e.g. by burning or erosion) can sometimes be locally relatively species-rich. Many of the liverwort species found tend to grow in these areas more frequently than in more ‘intact’ areas of bog. This may be because areas of shorter vegetation or bare peat allow more opportunity for a wider range of species to coexist until the heather and cottongrass take over.
These observations pose some interesting questions including:
Is some form of disturbance desirable in order to maintain high species diversity in M19 blanket bog?
Or, is it desirable, for other environmental reasons, to avoid disturbance and so aim to maintain a lower species-diversity?
Like a lot of scientific research, I think that this project will raise many more questions than it answers! You can read more about Peatscapes here: http://www.northpennines.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=12218