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ForestHarvest: non-timber forest products in Scotland

GATHERING - Harvesting Guidelines


The Scottish Moss Collection Code: Guidance for commercial moss harvesting

The countryside is a working environment. Please be aware of your own safety and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It is an offence to uproot any wild plant without the permission of the landowner, therefore, in accordance with the law and as a matter of courtesy, make sure you receive permission before collecting moss. Commercial harvesting requires an agreement with the landowner.

Scotland is very important for mosses, having many rare species and more than 60% of European moss species. As there are many rare mosses, which are often difficult to identify, the guidelines ask you only to harvest particular types of species from habitats where there are less likely to be rare species. It is your responsibility to ensure that rare species are not being harvested. If you are in any doubt please seek expert help. You can help to maintain the natural environment by respecting these guidelines and only taking what you need.

Please consider the points below when collecting moss. Please also contact the land manager who will help you to choose a suitable place. If you see evidence that other harvesters have not been following these guidelines, please report it to your local Police and ask to speak to the Wildlife Crime Officer.

Harvesting guidance

Where to collect

The least vulnerable sites for moss collection are conifer plantations.

Please avoid places where rare mosses are most likely to be found, these are:

  • Bogs, stream sides, springs, rock outcrops, walls, tree trunks, and dead wood
  • Areas designated for nature conservation
  • Native woodlands (including pinewoods)
  • Areas that appear to have been harvested recently
How to collect

Collection techniques vary according to the type of moss. Mosses should be collected by hand, or using hand tools. Weft-forming mosses (those that form a mat on the ground) can be harvested using a rake.

Leave patches of moss so that they can re-grow, only collecting half of what is present.

To allow moss to recover, do not collect from the same patch for at least 5 years. Re-growth times vary from site to site and with moss species. Re-growth tends to take around 5 years, but the area should not be harvested again until it has regained the condition it was in prior to harvesting.

What to collect

Mosses that form a mat on the ground (weft forming mosses)), when found in plantations as described above, are least vulnerable.

Click on the names below for images of some common weft-forming mosses:

Hylocomium splendens,

Pleurozium schreberi,

Pseudosceropdium purum.

(Images copyright Scottish Natural Heritage.)

Rhytidiadelphus_ quarrosus.

(Image by Michael Becker.)

It is illegal to collect certain mosses which are protected by law. Lists of protected mosses can be found on the Joint National Conservation Committee's (JNCC) website under 'Species designations'.


Quad bikes are often used to take harvested moss away from the harvesting site. Repeated traffic over the same area of ground can cause erosion; to ensure that this does not happen, try to stick to drier ground and ensure that routes are varied.


As harvesting may take place in the same area over a period of several years it is important to record exactly where harvesting has taken place to ensure that areas are not harvested too frequently. Recording where harvesting is to take place will also ensure that harvesting areas do not overlap if more than one contract or agreement is being issued.

When contracts are made it would also be sensible to work on the basis of a charge per bag (or other quantity) so that it is easy to monitor how much moss is being removed from each area.

Management actions for moss harvests

Thinning and brashing can help to maintain the levels of light reaching the forest floor as plantations mature.

With all mosses as with sphagnum, harvesting from areas which are about to suffer disturbance, such as by the harvest of timber, will minimise damage and increase efficiency. Any activities, such as surveys or the development of extraction routes, which must take place before the harvest of timber, can then be used to provide guidance or support for both timber and moss harvests.

Photo - forest mosses

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Quick Index

Where to collect

How to collect

What to collect




Sphagnum mosses

Sphagnum mosses

There are a great many rare sphagnum mosses which can be very difficult to identify, particularly as sphagnum tends to grow in communities of several species mixed up together. To minimise the risk of harvesting rare species and destroying habitats, sphagnum mosses should only be collected from conifer plantations that are soon to be felled.

Please avoid the following areas:

  • Stream sides (but not drainage ditches), springs, rock outcrops, walls, tree trunks, and dead wood.
  • Areas designated for nature conservation
  • Native woodlands (including pinewoods)
  • Areas that appear to have been harvested recently

It is your responsibility to ensure that rare species are not being harvested. If you are in any doubt please seek expert help.

When sphagnum mosses are collected under the conditions described above, they should be pulled by hand. In order to leave material that can re-grow do not take the full depth of the moss, only the top green part down to where stems change colour and become muddy.

Sphagnum moss is one of the species groups targeted for special attention by Reforesting Scotland's Sustainable Forest Harvest project.

One common sphagnum species is Sphagnum palustre (image by Bernd Haynold - click on image to see a larger version):

Photo of Sphagnum palustre by Bernd Haynold

This guidance was created by a group representing the interests of conservation organisations, land managers and moss harvesters and buyers.

The creation of the guidance was funded by Scottish Enterprise, the Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Forestry Trust.

logos of the funders of the Scottish Moss Code: Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, the Scottish Forestry Trust and Scottish Enterprise