Munsary Peatlands

Location: Near Lybster, Caithness.

Grid Reference: ND 211 450

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In the far north of Scotland, the wildness, sheer scale and conservation importance of Munsary make this a very special place.

Munsary is a vast, undulating plain of peatland. Plantlife owns 3,058 acres (1,238 ha) here – almost three times the total area of all our other reserves – and looks after an adjacent 1,600 acres (648 ha) too.

It can be wild here, with occasional sleet storms even in June, and with fearsome midges when the wind isn’t blowing. And when you reach the peat after the three mile walk in, it is unfriendly underfoot, with the wettest parts like walking through a deep bowl of porridge.

But Munsary is incredibly important, part of the famous Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland, and with conservation designations from Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to being part of a candidate World Heritage Site. The blanket bog here is one of the most extensive peatlands left in Europe.

A special feature at Munsary is an anomalous-looking area of dark-watered pools, high on a dome of peat, called dubh lochans.

Bog mosses and bog flowers

Even a visitor who has never studied mosses can spot differences between those forming the peat. Some form neat, rounded mounds, others are brownish or reddish tufts, while others make a deceptive green lawn, floating over water of an uncertain depth.

The drier areas of bog moss are home to many characteristic bog plants: bog asphodel, with spikes of yellow flowers, common cottongrass, with many white cottony heads in summer, and hare’s-tail cottongrass with just a single, fluffier head. Three species of heather grow here and plenty of sedges too, including such hard-to-find species as few-flowered sedge, flea sedge and bog-sedge.

Insect-eating plants lurk beside streams and wet pools: butterwort, with a basal rosette of broad, yellow-green leaves on which small insects stick, and roundleaved and great sundew, with long red hairs on their leaves curving over to entrap their prey.

To date, 147 species of vascular plants have been recorded including a patch of marsh saxifrage, discovered in 2002, which is one of the largest colonies in Britain. Three smaller patches have been discovered more recently. The same survey found bog orchid, a tiny yellow-green orchid which is so slight as to be almost invisible in the few bogs where it grows. The nationally-scarce small cranberry is also found at the reserve.

Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Craignish Conservation Trust, with management support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

What to see and when

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