IT is a windswept wilderness that many pass without a glance.

But Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve in West Lothian is one of our environmental crown jewels – a hidden oasis where species such as the dragonfly-eating sundew, heath spotted orchid and curlew can be found.

It is also a rare survivor of the lowland raised bogs once common across central Scotland.

Now the reserve’s profile is set for a huge boost after plans were unveiled that will see the site expanded, a new boardwalk and circular paths put in, and work undertaken aimed at restoring the peatlands as part of efforts to preserve their climate changefighting properties.

It is also hoped the work announced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will put Blawhorn Moss on the eco-tourism map alongside locations such as the Flow Country, helping it become a visitor magnet and adding to the already marked increase in walkers since the coronavirus lockdown was introduced.

“Many of the National Nature Reserves we look after are the big iconic ones up in the Highlands and we have relatively few in the Central Belt,” said David Pickett, SNH’s reserve manager.

“But Blawhorn is only a half-hour drive from Edinburgh. You have this open, wild vista and you can look north to the Ochils.

“Local people have been telling me that, during lockdown, when they weren’t able to drive anywhere, they were stepping out on paths in the local area.

“People have really been discovering Blawhorn. It’s something that they didn’t know was on their doorstep.

“We hope that, now people have discovered it, we can offer them more, and that we might start to see people using the reserve more.”

Following a 10-year agreement with a local landowner, SNH experts are preparing to create an entirely new path which will sit alongside the reserve’s existing, 1.7-kilometre return-route.

The feature will be circular, involve a longer boardwalk, and take in woodland, a pond, peatlands and fen.

Options for a further boardwalk across the bog are also being examined, with the reserve as a whole to be expanded by 20 hectares.

“Blawhorn Moss is a wonderful place to visit, somewhere close to Edinburgh but where you can escape the rush of everyday life and experience all kinds of unusual wildlife and beautiful scenery,” added Mr Pickett.

“We’re really excited to about enlarging the reserve and creating better and longer paths for people to enjoy.”

A key focus of the planned work will be protecting the unique characteristics of Blawhorn’s peat layers.

These hold plant material accumulated over millennia as well as significant amounts of carbon, making them a key weapon in the battle against climate change.

To preserve its “carbon sink” function, SNH experts want to maintain and extend the active bog at the reserve by raising the overall water table and managing a fringe of vegetation called lagg fen.

This will be achieved by damming ditches and creating barriers to hold water within the bog.

“The peatland at the new part of the reserve is quite degraded,” said Mr Pickett.

“This project gives us the chance to put new dams in the ditches, bring the water table up to the surface and make the bog wetter.

“By doing this, we can properly restore the bog habitat and allow more sphagnum moss to grow on the surface.

“This locks in the existing carbon into the bog and allows it to carry on capturing and retaining carbon, so helping to mitigate climate change.”

Mr Pickett hopes that, in addition to taking time out to enjoy Blawhorn’s sights and sounds, those living nearby will lend a hand to the improvement project.

“The expansion will give locals more opportunity to get involved in volunteer work, and we really hope to see them come along to take part in this rewarding work,” he added.

“There are techniques which allow you to put in the peatbog dams by hand, which could be a good activity for local people to be involved in.”

He added: “Opportunities to take on a new bit of land for a nature reserve don’t come along very often... so it is a very exciting opportunity for the team that works on the Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve and we have really enjoyed starting to make plans for the new land.”