Wildlife Column: The Black Darter of the peat bog…   

Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

On the vast wildlife reserve of Thorne Moors near Doncaster a group of us searched for rareand ‘lost’ bog mosses; a group of important plants called Sphagnum mosses.

We had a splendid day as a part of a long-term survey undertaken with colleagues from the ‘Thorne and Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum’.

Black Darter dragonfly

Black Darter dragonfly

This was the third year of intensive ‘feet in the bog’ survey days and turned up some good stuff.

We have recorded nearly twenty different species and varieties; which is pretty good and indicates the area’s recovery from a centuries-long decline.

However, don’t get too excited yet as it may take around 500 or more years for the site to fully recover, (if it ever will), to its status as a ‘raised bog’; the pinnacle of peatland conservation sites.

Much of the once massive site (it is still around seven miles across) was progressively destroyed during the latter part of the twentieth century for horticultural peat extraction.

Not only did this peat mining destroy about 99% or more of England’s lowland raised bogs, but it also compromised water-holding capacities and contributed big-time to the release of carbon into the atmosphere and thus to climate change.

It is worth considering this next time you are tempted to shovel a few bags of peat moss onto your garden!

The environmental consequences really are rather dire and unforgiveable.

Back in the 1990s, with help from then City Council leader Clive Betts, we turned Sheffield into a peat-free authority though I am not sure whether this is still the case.

Indeed, I have noticed how progressively over the years many garden centres have turned their backs on peat-free and environmentally-friendly composts and soil-conditioners.

It is often quite difficult to work out what is in a sack of badly-labelled peat-based compost! I think the idea is to disguise the contents and quite a few outlets simply don’t have ANY peat-free; and I have asked.

Anyway, back on Thorne we came across the peat-bog dragonfly, the Black Darter.

This is a super little beast and makes a day on the bog thoroughly worthwhile.