Scotland grows world-class bogs. The north and west have just the right blend of mild, moist conditions for the ‘Sphagnum’ bog mosses that power bog growth to thrive. They produce landscape-blanketing peatlands. In a few other places, there are also ‘raised’ bogs, formed in large hollows of lowland freshwater that gradually filled with vegetation. Whatever the variety – blanket or raised – Scottish bogs repay a close look to appreciate the colours of their plants.
Where to go
Arguably the finest blanket bogs on the planet are in Caithness and Sutherland and in the heart of Lewis. The scale of these is awesome – bogland stretching to the distant horizon in some cases.
Caithness and Sutherland peatlands: Forsinard in the centre of Caithness has a visitor centre and boardwalk that can introduce you to the delights of the so-called ‘Flow Country’. Choice birds such as black-throated divers and golden plover breed in the area in summer, and the road is good for seeing red deer.
Outer Hebrides: Get a grandstand view of the vast Lewis Peatlands by travelling the A857 between Stornoway and Callanish. Golden eagles hunt over this ground and golden plover and dunlin breed out on the bog.
Stirlingshire: Flanders Moss between Aberfoyle and Stirling is the largest surviving raised bog in Britain. You can get good views from pull-ins along roads that flank it. These are worth using in autumn and winter to see the flocks of grey geese that feed and roost in the area. Mountain hares live on Flanders Moss and bog rosemary and Labrador tea grow here.
The Flow Country became notorious when stands of Lodgepole pine and other non-native conifers were planted there in the 1980s to allow investors to benefit from lucrative tax concessions. Opposition to destruction of this internationally important wildlife area led to the removal of the tax break that encouraged the inappropriate planting.
Now conservation bodies, local crofters and other landowners are working together to preserve the big peatlands in Caithness, Sutherland and on Lewis. Some of the 1980s Flow Country plantations have been removed to allow expansion of the bogland.