“The Mosses vary season to season,” Frank Mawby told me in 2010. He had recently retired from being Sites Manager for Natural England’s Northern Reserves, and his love of the Mosses is unabated even today. “In winter, they’re brown, not surprisingly, but they’re still the most colourful habitat you can walk on. When the sphagnum mosses are all wet, the different species have different colours, greens, and oranges that are almost fluorescent, they glow. Big hummocky ones that are dark red … All these under your feet, under the layer of dead cotton grass. A skin of mosses. It’s very quiet at times, but at other times it’s pretty hectic – snipe, jacksnipe which jump up under your feet, pipits and skylarks.”
In writing about the place that is Bowness Common, one could either ‘show and tell’, or write a check-list, an inventory, of the plants and animals seen there.
So here is a list, summoned from my memory and not from a note-book, of some of the plants, mosses and animals I have seen amongst the hummocks, hollows, ‘lawns’ and bog-pools of the central mire (I have seen more, but I need tuition in identification).
10 species of Sphagnum moss
Ling (Calluna vulgaris)
Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix)
2 species of cotton grass
2 species of sundew
Assorted sedges and grasses
Frogs and spawn
Fox scat & otter spraint
9 species of dragonfly and damselfly
Caterpillars of oak eggar moths
According to Richard Fortey,
“A list of animals and fungi could become tiresome, but it is necessary to grasp the true richness of nature. Think of it as not so much an inventory as a catalogue leading to compelling and interacting stories…” (Richard Fortey, 2016. The Wood For The Trees. The Long View of Nature from a Small Wood. Collins)
‘Compelling and interacting stories.’
Imagine those stories in three dimensions: burrow into the ancient peat, bask in the sun on a boardwalk, hide amongst Sphagnum floating in a pool, flit above the heather, rise up into the air.
And then throw in the fourth dimension, of time: imagine what is happening around you on your ‘virtual Moss’, minute by minute (as a damselfly flits), day by day, week by week, through the seasons … the years of growth past and future.
Imagine the scents, of wetness and hot, dry heather.
And then try to imagine the sounds – what might you hear?
But imagine too, and above all, the silence; a silence that is comfortable with itself.
The impact of humans on Bowness Common has been a grimace on the face of its geological history and now we’re working to smooth out the wrinkles. Let’s hope that we can continue to feel, in Paul Kingsnorth’s words, “that the natural world, the non-human realm, is not an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community that we should nurture.”