Bogs are extremely wet places, and can also be known as mires, marshes or swamps. The soil in these areas is very dark and known as peat. It holds so much water it actually has fewer solids than milk, meaning it’s very easy to lose a wellie in. Peat is created very slowly, around 1mm a year, and holds an amazing amount of information. A lump of peat from a thousand years ago can tell an expert anything from what kind of plants and insects were living at the time, to whether a volcano had just erupted in Iceland! All of this information can be worked out from microscopic bits of pollen, dust and plant and animal matter which are preserved in peat layers.

Who lives on a bog?

Because bogs are so wet and low in nutrient (the food that plants need to grow) very few things are happy to live on them. In order to survive many of our plants have to think of clever ways to get by. Carnivorous plants make up for the lack of nutrients in the soil by munching on insects instead. Sundew’s have sticky leaves which the insects can’t escape from. Another plant which lives on bogs is sphagnum. Known as ‘bog moss’, this plant is super absorbent, so much so that it’s been used in bandages in the past. Another plant which likes it a little bit wet is the bog cranberry. This tiny trailing plant has beautiful pink flowers early in the year. These then turn to cranberries, the same as the ones you’d buy in a shop.

What’s a quaking bog?

There are lots of different kinds of bogs. In the UK we have lots of blanket bogs. Globally they are very rare but with our wet climate they cover many areas across northern England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Lowland raised bogs are another type we had a lot of, but unfortunately many were destroyed in the past. One of the most exciting kinds of bogs we get in this country are the quaking bogs or schwingmoor. These are where our sphagnum forms a raft across the surface of a pool or lake. The raft gets thicker and thicker in time until other plants can grow on top of it. Rafts become so thick that even people can walk on them. These rafts wobble beneath your feet like a water mattress! Sites like this are incredibly rare and rather dangerous so few people ever get to experience them.

Save our bogs!

Today lots of work is going into restoring bogs, as their value for nature is incredibly high. One of the important things we can do is avoid buying peat, which is often used in garden compost. Digging up peat from our bogs means we lose all the amazing wildlife which live on them from brightly coloured dragonflies to the majestic hen harrier. So let’s save our bogs and go peat-free in our gardens.


Images: Bog © A Walmsley; sundew © Ian Dossett; grass snake © Chris Gilbert.