Birkbeck Lectures 2014: Mires – the Cinderella habitat


Mires – the Cinderella habitat

part of the series 'This blasted heath–the future of lowland heathland, acid grassland and mire'

Partner Event @Birkbeck University of London, Lecture theatre B36

Free public lecture series, Autumn 2014.

18:30 Friday 31st October 2014

Mires – the Cinderella habitat

In Act I of “Macbeth”, Shakespeare used a heath near Forres as the forbidding setting of a supernatural encounter. Heaths have long had a bad public image. Most heaths are ancient. They were established when woodland was cleared in places with an underlying geology forming an impoverished acidic soil, and maintained by traditional practices. However, they are diminishing throughout the country, even if pockets are still to be found in the southern counties and in the suburbs of London. These remnant heathlands are now much valued as natural open spaces. They are precious because they support a specialised biota, some of which is not found elsewhere. Loss may occur from ecological succession following the neglect of traditional management, or conversion to agriculture or to urban development. How can the remaining patches be saved? How can these important areas be managed to best effect? Management practices in different sites will be discussed and compared. Current problems will be highlighted and specialised conditions for particular groups of plants and animals discussed.

Oct 31st. Mires – the Cinderella habitat. Richard Lindsay, Sustainability Research Institute of the University of East London

Richard Lindsay heads Environmental Research in the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of East London. For 20 years he worked as the National Peatland Specialist in the Chief Scientist Team of the Nature Conservancy Council and Scottish Natural Heritage. He joined the University of East London in 1979 and came to work full time on peatland research and conservation. He was first Chairman of the International Mire Conservation Group, bringing together those who advise their governments on peatland conservation, continuing in that role for 14 years. He has worked on peatlands across the UK, throughout Europe, and in Tierra del Fuego, Costa Rica, Hokkaido and north-eastern China. He led an international research team to Fraser Island off Australia’s Queensland coast in 2013 to understand a large, recently-discorvered peatland.

Peatlands are the great invisible habitat. They cover over 3% of the planet’s land surface and contain more than three times the carbon of the world’s tropical rainforests. Indeed peatlands contain more carbon than the whole of the world’s vegetation combined. In the UK, peatlands are the largest surviving semi-natural biotope and provide 70% of all drinking water. Yet peatlands suffer from the double curse of ‘the Cinderella Syndrome’ and ‘the Attenborough Effect’. Mire is the international term for a peat-forming system, and peat forms because the vegetation layer is waterlogged. In the lowlands, the valley ‘bogs’ of the New Forest, Farm Bog on Wimbledon Common, or the Great Grimpen Mire of Sherlock Holmes fame (actually Foxtor Mires on Dartmoor) are all fens. Most fens were drained and converted to agriculture long ago, and the tiny survivors are still threatened by drainage and now by nutrient enrichment from their surrounds. Lowland bogs form like a waterlogged compost heap, where peat accumulation raises the surface up to 10 metres above the surrounding land and on a grand scale; some lowland ‘raised bogs’ are more than 5 km in diameter. They are thousands of years older than our oldest trees. Long regarded as wastelands and abused accordingly, belatedly, we now value bogs to ameliorate local climate, as carbon stores and for flood control.

This free public lecture is part of a series hosted by Geography Environment and Development Studies (GEDS), Birkbeck University of London. The lectures are suitable for those who may be considering, or undertaking, university courses in ecology, biological conservation or related subjects. They will interest environmental and ecological practitioners, natural historians, wildlife organisations and others with similar interests.

The lectures are supported by GEDS, Birkbeck University of London and would not be possible otherwise. They are organised and promoted by the Ecology and Conservation Studies Society, with assistance from the Linnean Society of London.