Friday, 26 February 2016

Why I am helping to record Sphagnum

Guest blog post by 'The Big Moss Map' volunteer Debbie Wallace

Sphagnum is very important for healthy peatlands and knowing where it is and how well it is faring is essential for its conservation.

I am studying for an MSc Biological Recording and I like to spend my time doing this…

These are a few examples from my survey route.
I am recording the location of Sphagnum in the Peak District for the Big Moss Map.

If you take a good close look at Sphagnum, you will be rewarded; they are really fabulous.  

Some species can have quite vibrant colours and they have subtly different leaf shapes and characteristics.  

After participating in several mosses and liverworts courses and a Sphagnum identification workshop during 2015, I really wanted to put what I had learned to good use and contribute to this very worthwhile project.

The Moors for the Future survey method is simple to follow and it can be carried out by anyone with an interest in nature and a love of the outdoors. No prior knowledge of Sphagnum identification is required.

I can highly recommend attending one of the survey training days; they are really informative and enjoyable. The training provides all of the information that a volunteer needs in order to get out and collect some really valuable Sphagnum records for the Big Moss Map. 

My surveys so far

I am recording all of the Sphagnum which grows within 2m of each side of this track and I have found quite a lot so far. It takes a keen eye as sometimes it can be quite well hidden.

Chapel Gate - 21st January 2016
So far, I have been surveying during December, January and February (it's nicer than it sounds). 

It may sound pretty obvious but you can't find and record Sphagnum if it is under a blanket of snow. This meant that sometimes I had to wait for days when the snow had cleared. I am looking forward to spring and summer.

In addition to the very sound safety advice provided by the Moors for the Future team,, I also found the following routine to be very useful in keeping me safe and warm during my winter surveys:

  • I check the mountain weather forecast to make sure that the weather is suitable for a survey.
  • I know my route well and my partner knows exactly where I am going.
  • I carry a first aid kit, plenty of food, spare clothes, and some shelter.
  • I find hand warmers are really useful and hot soup on a cold day is wonderful.
  • I use a phone app which, providing I have a phone signal, allows me to text, email or tweet my grid reference very easily. I send text updates throughout the day. 

On a cold day hot soup is an excellent thing to have
My survey routine 

Each patch of Sphagnum has a number on the survey form

I take a piece or 'Whiteboard' (smooth wipe-clean plastic will do) and a dry wipe pen. 
For each new patch of Sphagnum, my first photo has the patch number and the grid reference. The 25cm scale is drawn on with a permanent marker. This is the start of my photo series. 

I take some close up photos which show the characteristic 
features, and a general habitat photo.
All of this makes entering records and uploading the corresponding photos much easier.

Although I had already attended a Sphagnum identification workshop and wanted to record the specific species of Sphagnum that I found, this is not necessary in order to take part in the survey and to contribute to the Big Moss Map. The 'Sphagnum Species' column is an optional one.

I am getting out there to find out, 'Where is all the Sphagnum?'

Debbie Wallace, February 2016