An Introduction to Portlethen Moss

Portlethen Moss
Moss "Facts"

Portlethen Moss holds an important place in respect to our local and natural history and, additionally, was an important strategic landmark in respect to the geography of the area, particularly in the years before there were any proper roads and settlements around. 

Iím not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject of the ďMossĒ because people more qualified than me have already written on this subject in great detail. In fact the next section entitled ďMoss FactsĒ has been shamelessly copied word for word from the Wikipedia website and a lot of you will already be familiar with the information held there. Additionally there is another local website dedicated to the conservation and upkeep of the Moss where the latest news and initiatives are listed on a regular basis. The website can be found on my links page.

However, here Iíll make an attempt at introducing a few snippets of extra information in relation to the history of the moss. 

Having lived in the area for nearly half a century I can remember the time when Portlethen Moss covered over twice the area that it does today. I also remember when there was only a handful of houses or crofts spread around the periphery of the moss. Today itís hard to believe that the houses from the west part of Broomfield Road, towards the Boswell estate, alongside Muirend Road, down Rowanbank Road, towards The Square and all points in between used to be one large, boggy wilderness where the only habitation was that of animals, birdlife and the amphibians found in the ponds. Anyone visiting Portlethen today for the first time in forty years would not recognise the place.  

I donít deny that I was very surprised when the housing estates began to encroach on the moss in the 1970ís; apparently building technology had developed to the extent that these houses would not suffer from dampness in the future. Over thirty years later and Iíve never heard or read of any complaints about these houses suffering from the effects of the moss that they are sitting on. 

So what did Portlethen Moss offer apart from a natural barrier to would-be invaders in the early years and a good habitat for a variety of wildlife? The main benefit to the local population was fuel, in the way of peat. This was cultivated on a regular basis, both here and on the moor at Findon Ness, and was particularly useful to the villagers in the coastal villages, not only as fuel for their fires but as a vital ingredient which was needed to smoke their fish (See Finnan Haddie section). 

The next question you might want to ask is; what is Peat?

Peat is vegetable matter which has been partially carbonized due to the way in which it decomposes and over long periods of time, peat deposits have the potential to evolve into coal. Moss is one of the primary components of peat, although it may also contain other plant matter such as grasses, shrubs, trees and roots. In addition, peat often contains decomposing material of animal origin. In order to form peat, conditions must be wet, acidic, and cold. As a result, peat develops most often in bogs and marshes, which are wet with poor drainage.

The cold and acidity keep decomposition rates slow and it can take hundreds or thousands of years for a peat deposit to build up, as layers of new plant material grow on top of layers of decomposing peat. The highly acidic conditions of peat bogs can have a preservative effect and human and animal remains have sometimes been discovered in bogs with their features remarkably intact, although I canít recall any finds of this nature in Portlethen Moss.

There are a number of uses for peat, although the two primary uses are as a type of fuel and as a fertilizer. Nowadays many countries exploit and sell their peat resources, especially Finland, Ireland, and ourselves in Scotland. In these nations, blocks of peat are readily available as a fuel source, and peat is also sold in less compacted form for gardeners.

When peat mining was at its peak at Portlethen Moss in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the local people werenít looking at exploiting and exporting this valuable resource, instead they used it for their own needs around the home.

When peat cutting was at its peak at Portlethen Moss in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the local people werenít looking at exploiting and exporting this valuable resource, instead they used it locally for their own needs, although there was an option of carting some peats to Aberdeen where there was some profit to be made. Each villager, as part of his monthly rental that was paid to the local landowner, had an entitlement to cut peat from Portlethen Moss or Findon Moor, dependant on whom that landlord was or where they stayed. As well as paying for their houses the villagers had to pay small nominal costs for other extras such as the use of peat from the bogs or kelp from the shores and these were recorded in the Accounts that the factor kept on behalf of the landowner.

How much peat can you get out of a bog? Letís have a look at some of the statistics produced by Mr. George Robertson who performed and wrote an agricultural survey for the county of Kincardineshire in 1810 and do a bit of calculation based on his initial figures.

The moss could be stated at eight feet in thickness on average Ė from that we will assume a depth of six feet of peat.. Each peat in its humid state may be around the size of a building brick, approximately nine inches long, four and a half inches broad and two and a quarter inches thick. From these dimensions there would be 512 peats in a cubic yard. Thatís as far as Mr Robertson took his calculation but on that basis I estimate that within a one acre tract of land based on these averages then you should be able to extract around 5 million pieces of peat!

Itís a mystery as to what happened to these peat cutting rights over the years, in fact some people in the older houses in Portlethen or Findon may have copies of old title deeds which shows them that previous householders were entitled to cut peat, even up to quite recent times. I guess the only people who truly know the answer to this question are the original landowners and the building companies that the land was sold to. Now the true facts are probably lost in the mists of time.

The final little titbit of information I can add to the story of Portlethen Moss is one that many of you wonít know about and is covered in the section entitled ďPortlethen for Sale!Ē In the early 1800ís the estate of Portlethen was for sale and one of the selling points was the ďfactĒ that it was very likely that Portlethen Moss had a rich seam of coal! It would appear that estate agents were alive and kicking in the early 19th century and were using every ploy that they could think off to sell off the land. The intervening two hundred years have passed without the discovery of any significant amounts of coal so itís probably safe to say that there are no rich coal veins buried within the moss or within the housing estates that are now built there.


Note: All photographs on this page taken within Portlethen Moss in October 2009.