Let's give a big round of applause for sphagnum moss. It's brilliant stuff. Sphagnum moss is very abundant in our boggy moorland. In fact, it plays a key role in the creation of our upland bogs in the first place. It loves water, holds on to it, slows down it's progress from the hillside to the river and holds it in place in the ground. Sphagnum moss can hold a vast amount of water compared to its own weight and you'll always be able to squeeze out a few drops of clean fresh water.
By slowing down the rate of water drainage, sphagnum moss creates wet, boggy areas which then become habitats for a range of other species of life. Upland bogs are incredibly useful at sequestering CO2, trapping it in the ground and helping offset the effects of global climate change caused by human production of greenhouse gases.
Over many decades, sphagnum moss grows, dies away and decays slowly in an anoxic environment, turning slowly to peat. Those deep banks of peat you see in the hills are made of well rotted sphagnum moss. It takes thousands of years to form and traps vast amounts of CO2 as it does so. 1mm of peat takes a year to form, so a bank of peat one metre deep took about 1000 years to form.
Peat can so easily be damaged and washed away though. If flowing water is allowed in to peat, it changes consistency to a soft flowing mud that is easily washed away. We can cause enough damage by walking over peat and wearing away the top vegetation to allow water to get in and wash away this precious resource. Try to tread lightly and leave no trace.
Peatland restoration is a big part of land management at the moment, mostly due to the benefits of CO2 capture. To restore peatland, you need to slow down the flow of water through it and hold it in place. Small streams can be blocked and sphagnum moss can be imported and planted to help this process.
Due to it's property of holding on to lots of water, sphagnum moss has a myriad of uses. Some of these are enhanced by the water it holds on to being slightly anticeptic. If you ever want an absorbant, anticeptic wound dressing, use a bit of sphagnum moss. It was used during the first world war and many other times for exactly this.
Perhaps more commonly, if you want something to line your hanging baskets, try a bit of sphagnum moss. It will keep your flowers moist and it's a natural material that's perfect for the job. Make sure you only take what you need though and remember it is doing vital work for us in the ground.
When you are out camping, you should use sphagnum moss as an alternative to toilet paper. Think of it is a natural, biodegradeable wet wipe that also disinfects. Perfect!
I've been told there are over 50 different types of sphagnum moss, which acounts for the broad range of colours you see. It all grows in really wet ground so you are advised not to walk over it. However, the red stuff is a bit drier than the green stuff generally. So, if I have a choice, I will step on the red stuff and avoid the green stuff.
Lots of people know about sphagnum moss but few know about woolly fringe moss. This is a shame because woolly fringe moss it pretty cool stuff as well. OK, it does not have all the cool properties of sphagnum moss, and it only comes in one colour, but it is just as plentiful as sphagnum moss and some hills are covered in a thick blanket of woolly fringe moss, making the walking very agreeable indeed. In fact, you should learn to recognise woolly fringe moss because it will make you a more efficient walker.
Woolly fringe moss always grows on dry ground. It can cover rocks with a thick pillow with no water underneath at all. Lots of boggy areas have a combination of sphagnum moss and woolly fringe moss - the sphagnum moss on the wet bits and the woolly fringe moss on the dry bits. Step on the woolly fringe moss and you will stay dry, avoid the wet boggy bits and cover the ground much more easily.
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Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.