Save & earn with MPB; trade-in and buy pre-loved

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION

2020VISION photographer Niall Benvie talks about peatlands and shares a few photography tips along the way.

| Landscape and Travel
Visit 2020VISION for more information.

Treeless, remote and wet: peat bogs are a hard sell to the public alongside lush forests and flower-rich meadows. But we neglect them at our peril argues Niall Benvie.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION: Bog bean thrive in the peaty pools of the Flow Country seen here at sunrise
Bog bean thrive in the peaty pools of the Flow Country seen here at sunrise. © Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Click the link to take you to the photography tips:

Peat bogs hit the front pages

Two stories in the 1980’s brought peat bogs to the front pages. On Islay, celebrity botanist Dr David Bellamy was humiliated when he waded into a public debate about the exploitation of Duich Moss, winter home to internationally-rare Greenland white fronted geese. Local people were in no doubt that the peat was needed more by their distilleries than the geese. And a number of other famous names, most notably Terry Wogan, were pilloried for exploiting a tax loophole that allowed them to plant non-native conifers on the “blankety bogs” of Sutherland- one of the worst places in Britain to grow timber. What was clear in both cases was that the public was more interested in the personalities involved rather than the bogs themselves - and that a great opportunity to tell the people why bogs mattered was missed.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION: Great Sundew
Great Sundew has sticky hairs which traps insects and provide the plant with nutrients © Lorne Gill/2020VISION

The current preoccupation with carbon emissions has focused attention on peatlands once again. They tie up enormous quantities of carbon (in the decaying plants that compose the peat) and methane (itself, an even more potent “greenhouse gas”). Scotland alone is estimated to sequester about three billion tonnes of these gases. Disturbing them (or in the case of west Siberia, thawing permafrost) releases these agents into the atmosphere, exacerbating problems caused by our industrial emissions. One objection to the giant wind farm proposed for Lewis a few years ago was that the amount of carbon from peat released during its construction would take 10 years to offset by the “clean” energy produced by the turbines - greatly reducing the farm’s effective life. Clearly, if the UK is to meet its international emission obligations, we need to take better care of our bogs and peatlands - and restore those that are already damaged. Losing even 5% of the carbon and methane they contain equates to the UK’s annual industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the UK hosts about 15% of the world’s blanket bogs - sequestering more carbon than all the forests at home and in France combined - Britain clearly has a important role to play.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION: Extensive pool systems punctuate much of the flat peatlands of the Flow Country © Peter Cairns/2020VISION
Extensive pool systems punctuate much of the flat peatlands of the Flow Country. © Peter Cairns/2020VISION

We’ve done a great deal of harm already. A combination of overgrazing, burning, drainage and in the Peak District, acid rain, have taken a heavy toll over the years. As soon as peat formation ceases and the top protective layer disappears, the peat accumulated below (sometimes to a depth of several metres) is liable to erode, sometimes right down to the underlying rock. It is easy to dismiss this as a problem that effects only unpopulated, impoverished areas but without that absorbent layer of peat, settled areas downslope are more at risk of flash flooding after heavy rainfall and likely to suffer poorer water quality as the eroded peat finds its way into the water supply. When peat dries out it is very hard to wet again and is highly combustible. If fire takes hold, it can burn for weeks, ruining the very landscapes that attract the visitors who drive many local economies.

Of course, degraded peatlands and bogs are bad not only for people. A range of specialist species including greenshank, hen harrier, dunlin and black throated diver can claim rights to these places based on occupancy over several thousand generations; the case for denying them continuity of their lines has yet to be argued convincingly by the forces of “development”, be that peat extraction, tree planting, drainage or agriculture. “Humans first” is as short-sighted as it is simplistic.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION: Great Sundew has sticky hairs which traps insects and provide the plant with nutrients
Round leaved sundew growing on brightly coloured sphagnum moss © Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Restoration begins

Work has begun in several places to restore peatlands to good heart. On the RSPB’s Forsinard reserve in the heart of the Flow Country in Sutherland LIFE funding from Europe has allowed conifers to be cut down (using a special hydraulic shear mounted on a low ground pressure vehicle) then “trodden” into the drainage ditches between the trees. In a bid to increase the waterlogging that is vital to peat formation, over 10 000 small dams made of peat have been built across drainage ditches. All this encourages the reformation of peat and recreation of the impenetrable wet wild places needed by their ancient inhabitants - and us. But it is a slow process: peat in this part of the world accumulates at the rate of only about 4 cm a century and it will be a long time before all traces of these ill-judged plantings have vanished.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION: Red-throated divers along with a number of other rare birds breed on the bog peatlands of northern Scotland
Red-throated divers along with a number of other rare birds breed on the bog peatlands of northern Scotland. © Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

In the Peak District, peat erosion is so severe on Kinder Scout that a £2.5 million scheme is now underway which involves, in the first instance, fencing sheep out of the worst affected areas. Within this exclusion zone, actively eroding gullies are blocked to raise the water table, and recreate waterlogged conditions and encourage sphagnum. A mulch formed from chopped heather helps to reduce erosion and the surface is further stabilised with localised planting of cottongrass and other moorland species. Bare peat is a pretty unwelcoming medium for plants to colonise but by applying lime from the air to increase its pH, followed by fertiliser, aerially-sown heather and grass seeds have a better chance of establishing.

All this work is costly, labour intensive and long term - and avoidable if the moors had been better managed in the past. Whether the political will to see it through will hold - and prevent the same mistakes being made again - remains to be seen but there is no doubt that the costs of doing nothing will, in the long term, be much, much higher.

Visit 2020VISION for more information.

Top tips for photography in the peatlands:

Dress correctly

If you want to explore this environment properly, wear a pair of hip-length waders, or even chest waders so that you can, literally, immerse yourself in the place.

Find some height

These are very flat environments so look for any elevated points to let you show more of the landscape.

Shoot panoramas

Peatbogs often lack interest in the foreground or sky; that being the case, concentrate on the middle distance and create an panorama of that.

Create abstracts

There are many fascinating and colourful details in bogs; give them impact by creating panels composed of many of these details, laid out in a grid pattern.

Good timing

Autumn colours in Scottish bogs peak in early December when the deergrass becomes yellow; time your photo-shoot accordingly.

Tips On Photographing Peatland From 2020VISION:
MPB Start Shopping

Support this site by making a Donation, purchasing Plus Membership, or shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, MPB. It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.


Other articles you might find interesting...

5 Top Autumn Garden Photography Tips & Ideas
3 Ways To Capture Autumn Photos With A Twist - Three Abstract Ideas
6 Top Tips On Photographing Autumn Landscapes With Wide-Angle Lenses
Top Tips On Photographing Sunbeams Through Trees
How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps
10 Reasons Why A Tripod Is An Essential Tool For Landscape P...
How To Photograph Foggy Landscapes With Ease
6 Top Tips On How To Photograph Rivers

There are no comments here! Be the first!


You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.