In Switzerland, moors are among the rarest and most precious of habitats. The UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch has 46 raised bog and transitional bogs as well as 68 fens of national importance, spanning some 26 square kilometres in total.
Moors are formed where the underlying soil is impermeable to water. In Entlebuch, flysch often forms the lowest impermeable layer. Sometimes, however, glaciers from the last ice age have gouged vast chambers into the landscape which filled with water in the course of heavy precipitation.
Fens were created by planting moisture-loving plants colonising the largely open and wet soils of the Entlebuch. In some very wet and nutrient-low fens, the remains of dead young plants accumulated and only broke down slowly on account of the constant wetness and the lack of oxygen. Peat mosses also gathered, forming raised bog that gradually emerged above the water table.
Raised bog are characterised by the growth of peat mosses (sphagnum), the star-shaped shoots of which form extensive cushions and carpets of green and red moss. The plants live almost exclusively on rainfall. In an raised bog, therefore, living conditions are extreme in every respect: the environment is wet and acidic, with few nutrients to be had. This means only highly specialised fauna and flora – like the carnivorous sundew and bog rosemary – can survive here.
Where an raised bog has a suitable water balance, the peat mosses will grow 1-3 centimetres in a year; beneath this, a peat layer of dead plant material forms and continues to get bigger. Although the peat layer of an raised bog only grows by around one millimetre per year, this body of peat will curve up above its surroundings over millennia (hence the name ‘upland moor’). This layer of peat also soaks up water like a sponge. Intact upland moors typically have raised peaks (bultes) and natural, water-filled depressions (Schlenken). Intact raised bog are, of course, free of trees: very few types of tree can tolerate the wet conditions and the lack of nutrition. Although mountain pines can form into loose raised bog forests on peaty soil, they grow extremely slowly: even century-old mountain pines only have a trunk diameter of a few centimetres.
Since fens are in active contact with the ground water, they are more alkaline and nutrient-rich than raised bog, while also supporting more species. In contrast to raised bog, which are not utilised, fens are also used for agricultural purposes (if unused, they quickly become overgrown and revert to forest).
Even from afar, fens are recognisable by the distinctively white and woolly tufts of cotton grass. In Entlebuch, many fens are filled with pretty purply-pink marsh orchids. The more chalky the soil in a fen, the more flowering plants it will have. With luck, you may also see the star gentian: its star-shaped, violet blossoms do not appear until August, when many other plants are already in bloom.
The sundew gets nutrients by trapping insects in its sticky leaves and digesting them. This carnivorous plant is relatively widespread in the upland moors of Entlebuch. Meanwhile the moorland clouded yellow, a yellow butterfly, also specialises in moorland – but it is not easily satisfied. It not only needs bog bilberries, which only grow in upland moor environments, to feed its caterpillars; it also needs to find flowery fens near the upland moors to ensure sufficient supplies of nectar as an adult butterfly. It is therefore important to conserve as much of these habitats as possible, and to link them into cohesive networks. Entlebuch is home to a handful of western capercaillie, an endangered bird roughly the size of a chicken. The UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch bears a special responsibility for its protection. Forests with a high proportion of fallen trees, blueberry bushes and undisturbed upland moor woodlands provide ideal habitats for this bird – and the viviparous lizard. Connecting the increasingly isolated moors to ensure contact between the species is thus vital.
Moorland is defined not just by moors, but also moor-free areas that are utilised by people. This combination means that these landscapes are perceived as especially attractive – and like many raised bog and fens, they are nationally protected. A great deal of moorland of national importance lies partially or entirely within the UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: Glaubenberg (the largest in Switzerland), Habkern/Sörenberg, Hilferenpass and Klein Entlen. Taken together, moorland accounts for roughly a quarter of the surface area of Entlebuch and approximately one tenth of all the raised bog in Switzerland.
Cultural features typical of the region include the dispersed settlements, which have largely been preserved. The sod huts, straw huts and straw piles still found in many villages help to define the landscape and recall the moor utilisation of bygone days.
Many of the fens were created as a result of clearing work when Entlebuch was settled around a thousand years ago. As the moors were cut, clippings were used as bedding for stables. This situation came to a head in the 19th century, when grain cultivation decreased in the face of cheap transport by rail and less and less straw was available. Straw was dried and stored either in piles in the open air or in straw huts . Although straw is still used in traditional ways, it has lost the major importance it once had. Grazing and the mowing of wetlands has transformed somewhat colourless forests into highly diverse and species-rich fens.