An ode to Little Woolden Moss

Little Woolden Moss - Andy Hankinson

Chat Moss birding legend, Dave Steel, shares why he loves our mosslands.

It’s a spring morning at Little Woolden Moss, where I’m lucky enough to be taking my daily exercise, and where I hope that this one visit can show why I love and have always loved our mosses.

Almost before I set off, a choir of willow warblers set the soundscape as they tell their story. They sing of their African wintering grounds, their return migration back to their place of birth, and how they are readying themselves to raise their family.

Willow warbler chick by Dave Steel

Willow warbler chick by Dave Steel

A familiar insect then put up a shout. But I wasn’t falling for that old trick. A grasshopper warbler had sought out a marshy patch and was reeling out it’s grasshopper imitating call.

Glancing out across the mossland, I am drawn to the carefully formed pools in which peat-forming sphagnum mosses, cotton-grass and other specialised plants that this fine example of a lowland raised bog (an extremely rare habitat in the UK) supports, flourish.

The same viewpoint but eight short years ago gave onto a barren brown desert: all that was left of the original wonderous habitat, the result of the commercial peat extraction that blighted Little Woolden Moss until so recently.

At a time of life when eight years is a meaningful chunk in my three score and ten, I have happily let this time slip by, contented in the knowledge that a legacy has, and is, being created by Lancashire Wildlife Trust and its wonderful volunteers, in their restoration efforts.

The devastation of peat extraction on Chat Moss in Manchester

The devastation of peat extraction on Chat Moss in Manchester

Initial musings over, a deep breath of fresh air, and I headed off along the southern footpath. But, as usual, I didn’t get far, as the distinctive ‘wita-wita-wita’ of a glorious snipe directed my gaze to a dead birch. Maybe it’s just fancy, but I like to think that the snipe was singing in celebration that finally someone has taken the time to bring back the habitat of its forefathers, reminding me of a time when snipe were once quite common on our mosslands.

By now the sun had motivated several peacock butterflies, which paused to be admired before continuing their journey. Unlike the common lizard which dashed at great speed across the path and once more under cover.

An oystercatcher that had set up its nest on one of the bunds, then raised the decibel level of bird sound to high as it chased off a couple of carrion crows which were looking for a late breakfast egg.

A hobby perching on a fencepost

Hobby - Dave Steel

Next to put in an appearance was an early emerging four-spotted chaser dragonfly, reminding me that soon the majestic hobby will be swooping across the peatland.

Every summer the hobby puts the Red Arrows to shame as it chases and catches some of the now abundant supply of dragonflies that, yes you have guessed it, the restoration work has brought about.

My pathway wandering finally got me to the west of the reserve where a couple of migratory wading birds had paused to rest at this mossland oasis. Then after admiring the dunlin and the wood sandpiper, I started my journey home.

I love everything that our mosslands have to offer. So, I ask us all to show it our care and respect, allowing everyone who visits to and simply stand, watch and listen to this beating heart of nature.
The sun rising over a healthy peat bog landscape in Ireland

The sun rising over a healthy peat bog by Ben Hall/2020VISION

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