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Bankhead Moss is a reserve of 42 acres in size. Its principal feature is a small raised mire with a typical dome-shaped profile. Such relatively intact mires are scarce in Fife. Vegetation cover on the centre of the dome is characteristic of acidic heath with Sphagnum growing in wet areas.

Birch woodland grows on the margins of the dome. Rough pasture and mixed woodland are present to the south of the Moss. The plantation to the south of the Moss is thought to have been planted between 1893 and 1912. The planting in the east strip was presumably undertaken in order to provide a shelterbelt.


Access to the Reserve

Bankhead Moss lies 8km south west of St. Andrews, just to the west of the village of Peat Inn. It is two miles south east of Pitscottie on the B940 road from Cupar to Crail.

The main access point is from the B940, just opposite to Greigston farm (Grid ref: NO 447106). There is a small car park at this point. Then follow the signposted walk across the field to the Reserve. There is now a new boardwalk over the lagg fen. At the end of the boardwalk turn right and follow the ditch round until a log bridge is reached. Access to the moss may be gained by crossing the ditch here.

Access can also be gained from the south, off the track from the Peat Inn Hotel to Larennie Farm. Please park to the north of Larennie Lodge (Grid ref: NO 448098)

Safety:

Great care must be taken at this reserve near any ditches. They may not look very deep, or may appear to be easy to cross due to vegetation growing in them. This is not the case. The ditches are extremely deep and dangerous and should only be crossed where there is a sturdy log dam or a bridge. On the surface of the moss the lint holes are also extremely deep; open water must not be stepped in. Areas of brightly coloured sphagnum moss should not be walked on; this is a very thin skin over a very deep hole and can easily be fallen through.



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Bankhead Moss

Peat Inn

NO 447 106
OS Sheet 59


Wildlife

There is a small area of marginal lagg fen on the north side of the reserve, while the Deschampsia cespitosa dominated area to the west has a high water table for much of the year and contains come interesting sedge communities. The water in the lagg fen is relatively nutrient-rich and plants growing here reflect base-rich conditions and include meadow sweet, tall grasses, sedges, and flowering herbs such as ragged robin, marsh marigold, buttercups, and wild angelica.

The top of the peat dome lies about 2.5m above the encircling ditch. Trees (mainly birch and pine) grow around the better-drained margin, but the bog centre is largely open, although tree seedlings, especially birch, are colonising it, probably a sign of natural drying out. Control of these young trees by cutting and careful use of herbicides is carried out.

Look out for different types of Sphagnum, especially in the depressions or lint-holes, which are artificial, and were used for retting flax in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also visible in the drier lint holes are sundews, and dragonflies breed in some of the more open ones.

Elsewhere on the moss surface are heather, cross leafed heath, crowberry, bog asphodel, cotton grass, sedges, and lichens such as Cladonia. All these plants reflect the acidic nature of the peat in which they grow. This is a species-poor vegetation typical of peat bogs, and should be contrasted with the lagg vegetation.

On the bog surface, all plant nutrients are derived from above, since ground water does not enter the peat from the surrounding area. This probably also explains why carnivorous plants eg. sundew, grow in such habitats: they have evolved as insect eaters because their environment is nutrient poor, and supplementary feeding is beneficial.

The reserve was established to protect a locally important example of a vulnerable habitat. Its interest is primarily botanical, and little attention has been paid to the fauna.

In 1975 17 species of water beetle were recorded, although none were considered to be 'very special'. With this single exception, no group appears to have received much attention, and there are only isolated and infrequent notes on file which refer to particular taxa. Since 1982, sporadic attempts have been made to maintain the population of the dragonfly Aeshnea juncea by clearing out lint holes and providing more areas of open water on the reserve. Unfortunately, the number of individuals recorded appears to have declined markedly in recent years and there are fears that the population is dying out.

Since 1984, there have been at least three bird censuses. Records exist only for the first, the results of the others never having been communicated to the management committee. The scope of the 1984 survey was restricted to the original reserve, ie, the moss and its immediate surroundings, and 46 species were recorded. The list includes records of other species noted at various times by other people. It is probable that relatively few of the birds nest on the reserve, but little is known about the birds of the reserve or their status.

Frogs and toads are present, especially on the marsh. Every year, spawn is laid at several points on the reserve, but most of it fails to survive. The water on and immediately around the moss is possibly too acidic, and much is laid elsewhere in water bodies that dry out in late spring, before the tadpoles metamorphose.

No rare or unusual species of mammal have been noted, although it must be stressed that there are no records relating to the presence or distribution of small mammals. However, 45 bat boxes were made and positioned at various points in and around the reserve (around the circumference of the raised moss) in May, 1993. It is hoped that this will encourage them to roost, since there are bats nearby, although they had not been recorded in Peat Inn.

A badger sett on the reserve was apparently abandoned in 1991 (a female was also run over on the road to the west of the Greigston entrance in April of that year), but some activity was again observed in April, 1992. Rather surprisingly, squirrels have not been noted.

Some shooting takes place on adjoining farmland, foxes being considered to be pests, while roe deer are apparently shot for sport on forestry land to the south.


Historical Perspective

The fact that the moss survives at all is probably due to the very poor drainage of the area which made intensive agricultural exploitation difficult. Nevertheless, the moss was known to be important from the 17th to mid 19th centuries as part of the flax industry. Flax was cultivated in the surrounding areas, harvested, and retted in 'lint' holes which were dug in the peat.

The process of retting separates the fibrous core of the flax from the outer sheath, and this is facilitated by the acid condition of the peaty water (unfortunately, it also discoloured it). Retting on the moss apparently ceased by 1854, but the lint holes are still very much in evidence on the moss. The retting activities, in conjunction with some limited peat cutting, probably caused considerable disturbance to the moss surface and vegetation.

No documentary evidence has been found for the cutting or management of the lint holes. The digging of the holes, and the regulation of the use of them, must have been either a communal effort, or a speculative venture by the landowner, the Hopes of Craighall, or the tenant.

It is not surprising that the reserve shows much evidence of human use given its location in an intensively farmed area. Both the Marsh and Larennie field have been cultivated in the past. Indeed, the Marsh, despite its extreme wet nature, was cultivated by its former owners during the 1960s, when wheat was grown. Both fields have been drained and any excavation almost always reveals clay drains. It is likely that both fields have predominantly been used for rough grazing by both cattle and sheep and this has certainly been the case in the recent past.


Management

Larennie field is grazed by sheep between the months of March and November. The let for the Marsh extends from early June until November. This area is grazed by approximately 10 cattle during the period of the let. There are no other land uses beyond nature conservation.

In order to try to preserve the moss, encroaching birch is being removed from the centre of the reserve.

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