A close encounter with wild nature at Portmoak Moss

The  Hoof Fungus on a tree at Gordon Moss SWT Reserve.
The Hoof Fungus on a tree at Gordon Moss SWT Reserve.

Portmoak Moss is a 107 acre (43 hectare) reserve at Scotlandwell in Kinross-shire owned by The Woodland Trust and managed by the Trust and the local Portmoak Community Woodland Group.

This moss is only a short drive from the RSPB center at Loch Leven and a visit and walk around this moss and wood should be included if you are in the area.

In the 1700s there was an enormous moss, probably 300 hectares in extent, stretching down to Loch Leven but by 1895 through drainage, water pumping and peat cutting for fuel, the area had been reduced to about the present day size of 43 hectares.

In the 1960s when there was a great rush to plant conifers, a commercial tree planting project with exotic conifers resulted in trees being planted over most of the moss. This was not well thought out, when conifer trees grow tall on pure peat they are very prone to blowing over and it is an expensive and difficult task trying to remove extensive areas of wind blown trees.

After almost destroying the moss, the site was abandoned as a commercial forest and taken over by the Woodland Trust in 1996 who’s aim is to restore the peatland and wetlands and transform the remaining woodlands to native, sustainable tree species.

This is being achieved through tree felling and drain blocking with plastic dams sunk into the ditches, they impede water loss and encourage the growth of sphagnum mosses and in time the formation of new peat. In parts of the moss the existing peat is 18 feet deep (six meters).

People are encouraged to visit and enjoy the moss and an extensive network of paths and walkways take you through the woods and over the open moss. There are small cliffs of peat between some areas of raised bog and the woodland and here extensive sets of steps have been constructed to provide safe access and stop people damaging the peat surface.

Late summer is not the most productive time to see woodland birds but I was impressed by the number of both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers calling. The policy of the trust is to leave dead trees standing to provide homes for insects, fungi and birds and some dead birch trees standing beside the paths had four species of bracket fungi growing out of their trunks and were obviously of great interest to the passing children and adults. One species was the Hoof Fungus which makes an iron hard bracket shaped like a horses hoof, it is also known as the Tinder Bracket as it was used in past times as tinder when making fires.