A critically endangered type of moss has been restored in a reservoir near Edinburgh. 

Some of the rare wildlife has been temporarily rehoused in the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, where botanists will use scientific greenhouses in an effort to build up a population then introduce it into other areas of Scotland

Scientists hope this work could secure the species’ existence in the UK and remove it from the GB Critically Endangered list - though it will be between eight to ten years before the success of the move can be determined. 

Round-leaved bryum prefers to live in areas which are inhabitable to other species, and scientists have been waiting 13 years since the last sighting. 

Both the most recent sighting and the 2010 spotting were made at Threipmuir Reservoir near Balerno in Edinburgh, which holds the status of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

Read more: Scottish union urges beef farmers to apply to £40m scheme

The wait to see the moss once again was ended by Kat O’Brien of NatureScot who first identified it, and the authenticity of the species was then verified by David Chamberlain of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 

Prior to 2010, there had not been a confirmed identification of the moss anywhere in the UK since 1987.

The reason the moss is so hard to spot is that it can only survive in locations temporarily when the conditions are exactly right - in mud next to reservoirs and lochans while water levels are temporarily low, which is a habitat that only appears occasionally.

Scientists consider this an extreme form of habitat, which means it has almost no competition to fend off other species who might otherwise have wanted to make their home there. 

The unusual nature of this habitat building has meant its existence has come under threat by human interventions to artificially stabilise water levels in reservoirs and lakes. 

Water levels at the Threipmuir Reservoir itself were artificially stabilised in 2010, coincidentally the same year as the last sighting of the moss, to deal with changing rainfall levels whilst at the same time removing the ideal conditions needed for the round-leaved bryum moss. 

Despite the need for low water levels to thrive, the historic sighting of the moss comes in a year of record-breaking rainfall, including the wettest October on record for eastern Scotland. 

Read more: ScottishPower Whitelee and Cromarty wind farm hydrogen wins

Rare species of moss is an important area of research for scientists and botanists. 40 of Scotland’s over 900 species of moss are listed as GB Critically Endangered and Internationally Important. 

A report entitled ‘State of Nature’ published in September this year found that since 1970, the numbers of 62% of species of moss in Scotland have decreased, compared to just a quarter which have seen positive growth. 

NatureScot’s Bryophyte, Fungi and Lichen Adviser, Kat O’Brien said: “This incredible re-discovery of such a rare and endangered moss in Scotland shows us that there is a whole world of biodiversity that we can only see and appreciate when we take the time to create the best conditions and work to protect nature. 

“Despite a number of dedicated bryologists in the UK looking for it, no one has found any round-leaved bryum in decades other than at this site, leading to its classification as a GB Critically Endangered. 

It is likely that this moss is losing sites faster than it is gaining new ones, and is declining on a European scale. The unique habitat it needs only occasionally appears, and it’s a good sign that the conservation work in the area is helping biodiversity.”

Dr Neil Bell, a bryologist at the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh said: “We are really excited to now have colonies of round-leaved bryum and other rare species from Threipmuir in cultivation at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

"As well as hoping that they can be bulked up sufficiently for translocation, the horticulturists here are learning a lot about how to grow bryophytes generally and about the life cycle of this fascinating, critically endangered moss."