A wonderful performance about a peat bog is running at Edinburgh Festival – Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart. This interweaves people’s lives with those of plants and migrating birds over generations. Fala Flow is a peat bog near Karine Polwart’s home, south of Edinburgh, and with her voice the Flow becomes urgently alive with wondrously named sphagnum mosses and life-giving (but also deadly) plants. Glimpsing uncertain futures with foul weather, Karine Polwart also draws out what can be done collectively. After listening to this performance, I was left wanting to breathe deep, and keen for Flows and the lives lived within them. As Karine Polwart said, peat bogs are the ‘lungs of the earth’.
Whim Moss is a raised bog at Lamancha not far from Fala Flow and in part of it, called Auchenforth, peat is being extracted. You can see the machinery used here – not quite so industrious as the fearful Two Headed Vacuum (below) but along the same lines, and still able to pick up peat infinitely quicker than sphagnum can ever lay it down.
It seems that people buy massive quantities of horticultural peat, despite alternatives being available. So extraction continues (see a previous post) and for Whim Moss, a legal loophole has allowed yet more peat extraction:
Plans to dig out large amounts of Scotland’s precious peat from a landowner’s estate near Edinburgh look set to go ahead despite widespread opposition from conservationists and government.
A loophole in the law is likely to allow peat to be extracted from Auchencorth Moss on the Penicuik Estate in breach of local and national planning policy. Peat is a vital store of carbon, and is meant to be protected to help prevent climate pollution.
12 June 2016, Rob Edwards, Herald Group – full article from the Herald.
What does Whim Moss look like from above?
The photo, kindly supplied by Hugh Chalmers of Tweed Forum, shows that Whim Moss, if perceived as lungs, have two lobes that are not equally healthy. Overall, the dark brown ‘lobe’ (of active peat extraction) is releasing carbon dioxide from the ground into the air – but the lighter ‘lobe’ slowly absorbs carbon, and has its uppermost vegetation layer intact. The healthy part of the lung is an SSSI bog which has been restored, as part of Peatland Action, to reinstate the dams and fell inappropriately planted trees. You can also see, middle left, an experimental area used by the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology to study how peatland ecosystems respond to different levels and forms of nitrogen deposition.
Think about the time frames invoked in this image. The raised bog has been creating itself since the Ice Age. The Clerk family has run the Penicuik Estate since 1654, while their tenant, Westland Horticulture, was initially given permission in 1986 for peat extraction. Since then, Scottish Government has taken legal steps to protect peatlands, but Westland wants to extract 100,000 cubic metres of peat every year until 2042, under a ‘review of minerals permission’ process. A decision is to be announced this summer.
Hold on! a review of permissions? A process that takes account of what time frames, what places, involving whom, and for whose generation?
A peat bog, according to Karine Polwart, can be appreciated best by being seen from two distances. A moss can be understood from the widest possible viewpoint – but also in close-up, its richness and beauty is revealed by the narrowest focus. Shouldn’t a ‘review of permissions’ take the widest possible viewpoint for future generations of all species, so that they are able to enjoy the meanings and values to be found within the slow, cyclical, small-scale pace of the living Flow?