Snowdonia is a National Park of phenomenal natural diversity: rocky summits where ravens abound, violet hills ringing with heather, damp mossy woods and golden beaches. It’s a peopled land, where generations have left their mark through its patchwork fields, lichen-stamped stone walls and mosaic hedgerows. Stitched together by the element of water: a landscape of stream, river and lake.
This unfolding drama occurs within a relatively small radius, a mere 823 square miles in the 8,000 that is Wales. Within that radius we have the highest mountain (Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon), the largest lake (Llyn Bala) and the wettest place (Capel Curig). Questions like these might pop up at your local quiz night and many people – whether they live, work or play in Snowdonia – would attest to knowing them.
But there’s a part of the natural fabric of Snowdonia has quietly existed for hundreds of thousands of years without due recognition: the peat bog. For the uninitiated, a peat bog is a type of wetland whose soft, spongy ground is composed largely of living and decaying mosses. It’s an ecological time capsule. If you’ve ever gone for a walk in the hills and had your welly sucked out from underneath you, you were probably walking through a bog. Damp, dark and seemingly undramatic, peat bogs make up around 12% of Snowdonia’s landmass.
However, in an age of uncertainty about the state of the environment, peat bogs are beginning to attract attention: Did you know that peat bogs hold more than twice the amount of carbon stored in all the world’s forests? They are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. And at a time when humanity is looking to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, peat bogs become paramount to making this happen.
The most extensive peatland area in Snowdonia is the Migneint-Arenig Dduallt special area of conservation. But, like many of the bogs in Snowdonia and beyond, it is under pressure from land use changes. Across Snowdonia peat bogs have in the past suffered from drainage for plantation forestry and agriculture and the spread of invasive species such as Rhododendron. Today, however, thanks to Welsh Government funding and focused effort from the National Park Authority, conservation organisations and landowners, work is being done to bring the bogs back to life.
Last year during the Snowdonia Society’s annual MaD (Make a Difference) Weekend volunteers helped restore the peat bogs of the Migneint. Decade-old ditches were blocked, allowing the land to re-wet. In time this will help restore the land back to a shimmering peatland oasis of water and moss. Truly the emerald jewels in Snowdonia’s boggy crown.
If you look closely enough, these bulging blankets of moss contain a myriad of colour, pattern and form to inspire even the most weary office worker. In Japan, the practice of Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing is popular with those craving relief from the stresses of modern life. Sphagnum mosses that form bogs have traditionally been used to cleanse and soothe, having antibacterial properties. Again and again, studies show that spending time outdoors improves mental wellbeing and helps boost the immune system. We should take the time to appreciate these humble wetlands, and we need to do all we can to protect them.
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