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In the far north of Scotland lies Munsary Peatlands, Plantlife’s largest and wildest nature reserve.
At nearly 2000 hectares, it can seem vast, but it’s only a small part of the much larger Flow Country -an expanse of blanket bog which extends to 187,000 hectares across the north of Scotland.
It is this blanket bog, one of the UK’s most unique landscapes, which is being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Munsary Peatlands forms an integral part of the proposed site, which is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland World Heritage Site.
The Flow Country is the world’s the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world. As well as being hugely important for biodiversity, it is also an important carbon store, locking up around 400 million tonnes of carbon.
Plantlife manages Munsary, our nature reserve, for its peatland habitat and for its rare plants – including the threatened Marsh Saxifrage.
The proposed World Heritage Site is also an Important Plant Area, identified for its important habitat and rare species. Recognising the Flow Country by awarding it World Heritage Site status would further reinforce how important it is for nature and climate.
One of the species from at Munsary – Grass of Parnassus, image by Alistair Whyte
Munsary Peatlands Nature Reserve
Another species found at Munsary – the Round-leaved Sundew, image by Alistair Whyte
In August this year we were delighted to welcome assessors for UNESCO to the reserve, to highlight some of the important features of the Flow Country and to discuss its management.
The visit was part of a week-long tour of the Flow Country by assessors, who met with land managers, local communities and peatland experts as part of their assessment of the Flow Country bid – led by the Flow Country Partnership.
Here at Plantlife, we are strongly supporting the bid, and will continue to work hard to protect Munsary Peatlands as an important part of this unique landscape.
A decision on whether to award the Flow Country World Heritage Site status is expected next year – stay tuned!
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.
Our Welsh reserves are home to a huge variety of wildflowers, but both are nationally renowned for their Butterfly Orchid populations.
Meg Griffiths shares how and why we count the 2 types of Butterfly Orchid species at our nature reserves in Wales, and how it will protect these rare plants for the future.
We are well and truly into summer, and we’ve already witnessed a spectacular succession of wild plants flowering over the last few months. Now that we’ve waved goodbye to the anemones and hawthorn is beginning to fade, we’re welcoming the orchids.
Butterfly orchids are delicate, elegant plants, with a single floral spike bearing many pale, creamy green flowers. Each flower resembles a tiny moth (or butterfly) in flight, with its wings outstretched. They are sweetly scented and can be found growing in a diverse range of habitats, from moors and bogs to woodlands, but most commonly they are found in undisturbed grasslands and meadows.
There are two species, Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha and Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia. The differences between them takes an expert eye to spot, and are to do with the angle between the pollen bearing organs of the plant (the pollinia).
Both species are pollinated by moths. At night, the first signal a moth will pick up on is the fragrance of the orchid – once closer the pale flowers will stand out against the darkness.
Unfortunately, both species are experiencing dramatic declines nationally. Greater butterfly orchid is faring the better of the two but is still classed as Near Threatened in the UK. Lesser butterfly orchid has been assessed as Vulnerable on the UK Vascular Plant Red List and has disappeared from over half of its previous range in the last 50 years.
Declines across both species are because of changes in agricultural grassland management – these species need consistent management over a long time to thrive. Damaging land use change could include too much (or too little) grazing, drainage of fields, and even addition of chemical fertilisers. Orchids rely on a soil fungus to survive, and agricultural chemicals can kill off this unseen life support network.
Thankfully, as their habitats are safe and protected within our reserves, these species are still thriving. To be sure of this, every year we participate in the butterfly orchid count to monitor how our populations of these beautiful plants are faring.
This year’s butterfly orchid numbers for Plantlife’s reserve in North Wales, Caeau-Tan-y-Bwlch. This reserve is managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust who we are so grateful to for all their hard and effective work.
This year’s butterfly orchid numbers for Plantlife’s reserve near Lampeter, Cae-Blaen-Dyffryn.
Monitoring how they are faring is an important part of understanding our reserves and making good management choices. Both our Welsh nature reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and both list the Butterfly Orchids as a notified feature- so there is a legal duty to ensure the populations remain in good condition
We want to be able to demonstrate that the way we are managing land is benefitting them, and counting the number of orchids each year, and gathering supporting habitat information, can help us adjust our site management when we need to. This enables us to give the orchids the best possible chance they have going forwards.
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves.
This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.
Cae Blaen-dyffryn is our south Wales nature reserve and can be found close to the town of Lampeter, in Carmarthenshire. It’s best known for its population of Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera chlorantha & P. bifolia) which flower in the high summer.
However, a visit in spring is always rewarding. Luxuriant fresh growth in the grassland is fed by a warm sun and abundant rain. Cuckoos call from distant hills. Within the reserve, Meadow Pipits drop from the sky above you with their cascading song, and Stonechats call assertively from the scrub.
You can also find the earliest-flowering plant species breaking through in Cae Blaen-dyffryn in May and June. If you look carefully, you can also find signs of other beauties still in store, like the feathery leaves of Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum (Carmarthenshire’s ‘County Flower’) poking through.
In May, the most abundant include pink Lousewort (pictured) Pedicularis sylvatica, purple Bugle Ajuga reptans, and yellow Tormentil Potentilla erecta, so the reserve is already a rainbow of colour.
Scattered bushes of Broom (pictured) Cytisus scoparius and Gorse Ulex europaeus are also in their fullest seasonal yellow coat of flowers. As soon as the sun hits them, they are suddenly alive with pollinators.
The speckled leaves of Dactylorhiza Orchids(pictured) can also be found peeking out between the abundant patches of Knapweed Centaurea nigra and Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata.
Our North Wales nature reserve, sitting on a hillside above Clynnog-Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, is equally known for its population of Greater Butterfly Orchids which number in their thousands at the site.
The meadows under the mountain pass face north east, making them a morning spot to visit if you wish to enjoy them in the sunshine at this time of year. They are as equally beautiful in the North Wales rain, however.
The cloddiau (earth and stone bank walls) between the fields are an equal show to the meadows, with their hedgerow tops of Rowan, Damson, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. If you look below the trees the Common Dog Violets Viola riviniana hide amongst the tree roots and the boulders.
The orchids are already visible in the meadow and the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is just starting to flower.
A few Celandines (pictured) Ficaria verna are just holding on but the yellow flowers and white clocks of the Dandelions Taraxacum spp contrast beautifully with the blue of the Bluebells Hyacinthus non-scripta, which are equally set off by the feathery leaves of Pignut Conopodium majus.
Spring Sedge Carex caryophyllea abounds at the site but if you look between it and the more prominent species very carefully you will see the leaves and tiny starry green flowers of the Intermediate Lady’s-mantle (pictured) Alchemilla xanthochlora and Smooth Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla glabra. If you visit in the morning on a dew laden spring day, you will catch these plants living up to their other name of ‘Dew Cup’.
There is something wonderful about the sense of promise yielded by flower-rich grasslands at this time of year. And a feeling you can’t wait to come back to see what you might find next.
Caeau Tan y Bwlch is managed on behalf of Plantlife by North Wales Wildlife Trust.
For more details on visiting our Welsh reserves in spring and throughout the year, visit our reserves page here Welsh Nature Reserves – Plantlife
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