Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Big Moss Map Survey

For my Birthday I couldn't think of a better way to spend my day than learning a bit more about Sphagnum moss and how important it is to certain areas of our landscape. So I got up early and headed down to Edale in the Peak District to spend a fantastic day with a bunch of other volunteers and some very knowledgeable moss nerds Joe and Tom from the Moors for Future Project. 

A bit of background first...The Peak District was once home to an abundance of sphagnum moss and over many years ancient peatlands formed. However during the industrial revolution, the production of acid rain caused the land to become just too acidic for even these acid loving mosses and degradation of the land was the result. Peat bogs all over the country have also suffered due to harvesting of the peat and drainage of land, erosion by the weather, grazing and competition from non-native plants. 

Sphagnum capillifolium
Sphagnum moss is more interesting than you may think - honest...
In the UK there are 34 different species of sphagnum moss and they come in a variety of leaf shapes and the colours are pretty amazing too - ranging from bright red to bright green. In the Peak District there have been about 15 of these species recorded. In my local area, the Lake District we are lucky enough to have quite an abundance of sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum moss

Polytrichum commune pictured on the right here - often confused with sphagnum moss
So why is Sphagnum Moss so important?
Sphagnum moss plays a major part in the fomation of peat, which takes many years to form. In waterlogged conditions, decomposition of plant material is extremely slow or non existent. Waterlogged areas become anoxic - that is lacking in oxygen and so the decomposing bacteria cannot surviveSphagnum moss grows from the top and does not possess roots and as the bottom of the plant dies - it goes through this slow decomposition process until it eventually forms peat along with other organic plant material.

Why is Peat so Important?
Peat could be described as a carbon store and a historical record of environmental conditions over the years. The organic material that forms peat is made of carbon and this carbon is essentially gets locked up in the peat store. 

Climate Change and Sphagnum Moss
With ever increasing temperatures sphagnum moss could become more threatened. Sphagnum moss can hold about 20 times its own weight in water and over 15 degrees C it begins to degrade.

Why Survey Sphagnum Moss?
The Moors for the Future Project have been been working hard to restore the sphagnum moss to the blanket bog peatlands of the Peak District to try and protect the peat. They now want the general public to help to see if this has been successful. More information on how to do this can be found on the Moors for Future Project website

The basics of the survey is to find a path by using the website and a starting point to survey from. Record your start point and off you go. You need to survey up to 2 metres either side of the path. You measure the size of a patch found in 25 cm segments and write down the grid reference of where you found it. 
You need to specify the growth form : Hummock, carpet or wet hollow and then specify the habitat it is found in:
Bog, heath, grassland, flush or woodland. 
A photograph of the patch is handy to show the area it is found in and then a close up to help with species identification.

How do you identify Sphagnum Moss?
Sphagnum moss is often confused with Polytrichum moss (pictured above), which is another common type of moss found in both the lowlands and the uplands.
One distinguishing feature that is very useful in identifying sphagnum moss is that it has a capitulum at the top of the central stem. Identifying the individual species gets a little more complicated! There are some good identification guides out there but its best to use a hand lens and a good guide to ensure you get your identifaction correct. For the big moss map survey - the main thing is finding the clumps of sphagnum and then trying to identify the individual species.

Sphagnum moss

Feather moss - has no capitullum like Sphagnum moss

Common feather moss - no capitulum

Some of the most common sphagnum moss species include Sphagnum capillifolium, Sphagnum fallax, Sphagnum denticulatum, Sphagnum papillosum and Sphagnum pallustre. And some of the best guides to identify these with are the Field Studies Council Guide or have a look at the British Bryological Society website and there are also some good books around.

Here's a couple of my favourite books and guides:

The great thing about sphagnum moss or in fact any species of moss is that it doesn't fly or run away and it is present pretty much all year round. This makes it a perfect species to go our and have some fun looking for and trying to identify...but beware it could become quite addictive! if you are interested in helping out just go to the Moor for the Future website, download some survey forms and get out there!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Sunrise, sunsets, clouds, rainbows and light in the Lake District

Golden sunsets
Well the Autumn storms are finally here and the high pressure has been replaced by low. The wind is howling and the autumn leaves are falling from the trees and swirling around all over the roads. Before the storm arrived when the weather was stable and dominated by high pressure, I managed to enjoy some stunning sunrises and sunsets.

Still mornings
Blue skies
The weather became more unsettled as the week went on, however my friend Clare and I studied the weather forecast and saw that there may be a slight weather window around 10am. It was a plod up Steel Fell in the rain but the autumn colours were still bright enough to see through the rain.As the rain cleared we were treated to an amazing cloud show, looking back down Thirlmere. There was also a faint rainbow and set against the backdrop of the brown and purple bracken it was pretty stunning. I didn't take my decent camera as having lived in the Lakes since I was born...I didn't believe the forecast!
Rolling clouds

Atmospheric clouds
Pretty rainbows
And as we round turned to look towards Helm Crag and beyond the light was also pretty stunning as the sun tried to break through the cloud.

 We wandered down the Wythburn valley and got a total soaking in the pouring rain but it didn't matter - we had seen some amazing light and the water levels were high making the rivers and beck a stunning sight as the water cascaded down the mountain sides.

Autumn colours
When I arrived home that evening I was just sitting down to have a look at my photos and glanced outside and there was just the most amazing golden I abandoned my cup of tea and I was off outside again with my camera to enjoy the wonders of the last moments of sunlight.

Stunning sunset

Golden skies looking towards the Solway
And then if you turned slightly away from the west the sky had a more pink tinge to it

Pink sunset
What a truly amazing planet we live on and it doesn't have to be sunny to enjoy it. If we didn't have the differences in air pressures that produces our weather systems it probably wouldn't be quite as beautiful! And it just goes to show it can be worth it sometimes (not always!) to just get out there are see what the weather treats you too!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Autumn Colours and atmospheric mist in the Lake District

The autumn colours just keep getting better and better in the Lake District. The weather has been pretty warm and humid, with a mixture of sunshine and showers. This has resulted in us being treated to some pretty stunning days. I haven't managed to get as many photos as I wanted but I've managed to sneak out at lunchtime and stopped the odd time whilst driving too and from various places!

Derwentwater in Autumn

Derwentwater in Autumn

In my previous blog I wrote about autumn colours, senesence and why leaves change colour so I thought in this blog I would write a little bit about mist and fog and temperature inversions. We have had some stunning sunsets and moon rises coupled with some mist and fog resulting in some beautiful scenes. I haven't managed to capture all of the scenes - but I have seen a bit of it from the office window!

Keswick - autumn colour
So what is happening when the mist is rolling through the valleys to result in these beautiful formations? 

Mist is basically water vapour. Tiny little water droplets form due to differences in temperature between the cold air and the warm land or water body. As the air gets cooled it causes condensation. The mist and fog that we see in the valleys is basically a pocket of cold dense air that has 'fallen' there and the warmer air is passing over it.

Mist rolling through the valleys
At this time of year we also wake up too misty mornings which often does get 'burnt off' by the sun. 

At night the land and water bodies lose the warmth they have gained fromt he sun during the day and cool down. As the air comes into contact with the cold land, it also gets cold. Cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air and so condensation and fog forms. As the day warms up so does the mist and fog causing the water droplets to turn back into water vapour.
Mist and autumn colour
Eerie looking trees in the mist

All of these weather concepts result in some beautiful landscapes for us. As the year goes on we start to get some more interesting weather phenomena such as frosts, snow and ice not to mention wild rain and wind! I will be blogging some more about all of this as the season pass...
There is more detail about fog on the Met Office learning page - full of info for natural world nerds like me!