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Munsary Peatlands

Location: Near Lybster, Caithness, Scotland
OS: ND 211450
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Habitat: Peat bog

Water pools and peat plants landscape
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The Reserve

Munsary is a vast 1884 hectares (4655 acres), undulating plain of peatland.

Munsary is incredibly important, part of the famous Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland which is an Important Plant Area (IPA), and with conservation designations from Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to being part of a candidate World Heritage Site.

Munsary stores around 1.9 million tonnes of carbon locked up in the peat.

Habitat

The reserve is made up of peat, which in places is up to 7 metres deep.

The blanket bog here is one of the most extensive peatlands left in Europe.

A special feature at Munsary is an unusual-looking area of dark-watered pools, high on a dome of peat, called dubh lochans. This area is particularly diverse, with pools of different shapes, sizes and depths, vegetated pools, and open water, ridges, and hummocks.

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 round leaved and great sundew, with long red hairs on their leaves curving over to entrap their prey.

Species to look out for

  • Great Sundew Drosera anglica – June – August
  • Marsh Saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus – August – September
  • Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa – June – September

The reserve holds the largest population of Marsh Saxifrage in Scotland.

Visit

Map of Munsary Peatland Nature Reserve location

Directions

Take the A9 from Latherton north towards Thurso. After about 6 miles turn right at Achavanich towards Lybster. After a third of a mile, turn left on to the track alongside Loch Sternster, where there is a car park.

The Munsary walking trail with information posts is a long a three-mile track from the car park to the reserve itself.

Accessibility

Munsary Peatland Nature Reserve is open to visitors. However you should be aware that the terrain can be dangerous. There is a high risk of sinking in soft areas of the bog or being caught by rapidly changing weather.

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.

To explore please use the Munsary Peatland Wildflower Walk Guide, and please let someone know you are going and when you are likely to be back.

 

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