Golden discovery on Winmarleigh Moss

Golden bog moss has been discovered on Lancashire's Winmarleigh Moss for the first time in 150 years!
Gold and yellow coloured golden bog moss

Golden bog moss - Josh Styles

Golden bog moss (sphagnum pulchrum) is a nationally scarce type of peat-forming sphagnum moss. With only one other recorded sighting in Lancashire, this new discovery has caused great excitement amongst peatland and nature lovers alike.

Its name comes from its golden colour that creates a splash of bright amongst the other green and brown peatland mosses and other plants.

Winmarleigh Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest, located near Garstang, is one of the best examples of our region’s just two per cent of remaining lowland raised peat bogs. Lancashire Wildlife Trust have been working to restore the site, and the discovery of golden bog moss is a great sign that things are moving in the right direction.

Golden bog moss forms a splash of yellow at Winmarleigh Moss SSSI

Golden bog moss at Winmarleigh Moss - Josh Styles

The discovery was made by Josh Styles, of the North West Rare Plant Initiative, one of the UK’s youngest and most qualified botanists. Josh has worked tirelessly to help to reintroduce rare or missing plants to our peatland sites, including orchestrating the return of lesser bladderwort to Astley Moss in Greater Manchester which flowered this summer for the first time in 150 years.

Golden bog moss was last recorded at Winmarleigh in 1890

Josh said, “Golden bog moss was last recorded at Winmarleigh in 1890. And so needless to say, I was left gobsmacked to have stumbled upon a patch at Winmarleigh well over a century since it was last seen there!”

A patch of golden bog moss surrounded by heathers and grasses

Golden bog moss at Winmarleigh Moss - Josh Styles

Golden bog moss doesn’t produce capsules in the UK, which is how it would spread from site to site in other areas, so it is likely that a small amount must have hung on for all that time at Winmarleigh Moss, but conditions are now right for it to flourish.

Sphagnum mosses are really special ecosystem engineers, literally creating the peat which forms our vital peatland landscapes. A healthy peat bog plays host to a number of different species of sphagnum moss, which form a carpet amongst other peatland plants such as cotton grasses and heathers.

In the water-logged, acidic conditions of peatlands, as the bottom layers of sphagnum moss die they decompose incredibly slowly forming layers of peat, but this only happens at about 1mm per year.

A large heath butterfly suspended in a spider web at Winmarleigh Moss

Large heath butterfly by Alan Wright

Once a good plant cover is established at a peatland, then insects and other animals will follow. Winmarleigh Moss is a great example of this, having one of the few remaining populations of large heath butterflies to survive in our region. These unassuming brown butterflies were used as the donor population for the successful reintroduction of the species to Astley Moss this summer. Again, the first time they have lived at this site for nearly 150 years!

The return of these fantastic species to our peatlands shows how the restoration efforts of Lancashire Wildlife Trust and our partners is really beginning to pay off.