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Mosses and liverworts

Present on land since before the dinosaurs, Scotland's 977 mosses and liverworts represent a diverse and unique part of our biodiversity at a European and global scale. This is due to Scotland's diverse landscape and a climate influenced strongly by the Atlantic Ocean. Relatively warm winters and cool, wet summers, especially on the west coast, provide perfect conditions for these little plants.

Tiny but significant

Mosses and liverworts are tiny plants that produce spores instead of flowers and seeds. There are differences between mosses and liverworts, but they share many important characteristics and are collectively called bryophytes. Despite their small size, they play a hugely important role in health and function of our environment.

Walk into a western oakwood and you will be immediately struck by luxuriant cushions of a multitude of different mosses and liverworts that festoon the woodland floor and tree branches. Many of the liverworts have interesting smells and give these woodlands a distinct sweet and peppery perfume. In addition to providing a home for woodland creatures, these soft cushions act like a giant sponge that slows the flow of rain into our burns and rivers and helps to protect us against flash floods.

At an even larger scale, mosses are the building material of Scotland's giant and expansive peat-bogs. The peat that forms from the dead remains of these mosses, especially the beautiful Sphagnum mosses, has provided an important source of fuel for Highland communities. Even more importantly, we now realise that the huge amounts of carbon that mosses can gradually lock up in peat play an important role in countering the cause of climate change.

Scotland's west coast mountain slopes are home to an important community of bryophytes called Scottish Liverwort Heath external site . This type of heath is rare outside Scotland, which gives us a special responsibility to protect it from damage due to burning and other threats. One species, the delicate Northern Prongwort, is known from only one site on Earth, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Luckily it is abundant and well protected here.

Protecting our mossy heritage

Some species of moss and liverwort are common and widespread but others are rare and run the risk of decline or extinction if we do not manage our environment properly. Some of the greatest threats are loss of undisturbed habitats through land-use change and the swamping out of many important woodland species by the incredibly invasive non-native bush, Rhododendron ponticum. Areas that are of particular importance for mosses and liverworts are protected by a series of international site designations and national site designations. Some species are protected by law.

How can you help

  • Get involved in recording groups to learn about these species and help increase our understanding about where they are found.
  • If you own or manage land, find out where the important areas for mosses and liverworts are and consider them in your management plans.
  • Take care not to let Rhododendron ponticum and other invasive plants spread from your garden into nearby woodland.
  • Take steps to reduce your contribution to climate change

Surviellance dossiers for priority Scottish mosses and liverworts

The following documents collate information about the current status of some of our rarer mosses and liverworts.  The species were originally identified through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan process but are now priority species on the Scottish Biodiversity List. It is hoped that these dossiers will inform conservation, land managers, academic research and others interested in adding to our knowledge about these species.

More dossiers will be added as they are completed


Last updated on Tuesday 14th March 2017 at 10:16 AM. Click here to comment on this page