The Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan T.D., has commended the peatland restoration work of the ‘The Living Bog’, an EU LIFE Nature Project co-funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at his department, which commenced in 2016 and is finishing up this month.
Upon its inception ‘The Living Bog’ was the largest single peatland restoration project of its kind, funded to the tune of €5.4m. Over the past six years it worked on raised bog Special Areas of Protection (SAC’s) across seven counties in Ireland.
‘The Living Bog’s’ end-of-project hybrid conference with its hub in Athlone heard today that between 2016 and 2021, the project has improved the condition of over 2,650ha of raised bog habitat and is on target to achieve over 720ha of Active Raised Bog habitat across the project sites, which will equate to an increase of over 50% since 2016. It is also estimated that an extra 100 tonnes of CO2 is being sequestered per year as a result of the work, and this will increase in the coming years as vegetation becomes established and the bogs achieve renewed equilibriums.
Restoration involved the blocking of over 182 km of drainage channels with over 15,000 dams including peat dams as well as plastic dams and sluices. The project developed a new understanding of the restoration potential of previously cutover bog (where peat had been removed), developing enhanced restoration techniques such as bunding on the cutover.
Minister Noonan commented:
“This innovative and exciting project did not simply focus on the restoration of raised bogs but also on engaging with local communities and stakeholders in developing the restoration plans and to maximise the socio-economic benefits of conservation during (and after) their work.
Nominated for one of Europe’s top environmental awards, the Natura 2000 Awards in 2020, the project devised a large schools programme and put communities in the centre of most major decisions.
“An active programme of community events, from walks and talks to children’s nature camps saw the Living Bog project establish a foothold in local communities. Community volunteers gave up many hours of their time to assist at project events and also to help on many project actions. A major schools outreach project was also launched, and over 100 schools were involved, with children encouraged to learn more about peatlands and bogs and espouse the benefits of restoration at home and socially.”
Minister Noonan, who has long advocated peatland restoration said Ireland’s raised bogs are a very special and unique place and where once people came together to harvest peat for fuel, they can now come together on these bogs for different reasons.
“Irish raised bogs have been managed throughout the centuries for various uses, including industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic, to meet the needs of every generation. Projects like ‘The Living Bog’ show there is a different way. With promotion of the sites during and after project work, it is hoped there will continue to be a sustainable socio-economic spin-off for some of these local communities as a result of this project,” the Minister stated.
The project worked with communities in devising and delivering visitor facilities and amenities, including looped walks, boardwalks, recreational areas and demonstration areas on a number of its project sites, most notably on Carrownagappul Bog SAC in Mountbellew, Co Galway. Here, the bog has been re-Christened ‘Galway’s Living Bog’ and the local community has developed a range of immersive bog activities for school groups and tourists alike.
Existing boardwalks on Clara Bog SAC in Co Offaly have been greatly enhanced by The Living Bog, with new roadside walks, a woodland walk and high bog walks all developed by the local community and delivered by the project. A boardwalk through woodland, cutover and high bog on Ferbane Bog SAC in Co Offaly emerged following project engagements with a local secondary school: Gallen Community School. The award-winning walks on Kilteevan Bog SAC in Co Roscommon were also added to, and it is hoped this work can be progressed on other bogs in the future.
Ecologists on the project have developed a brand new habitat classification system for cutover bog which also contributes to studies of the carbon balances of different habitat types. Positive ecological results were published in a number of scientific journals. The project also recognised for the first time in an Irish context that Active Raised Bog occurred on cutover bog and shows results in a much shorter time framed than originally envisaged. Although the trajectory towards active raised bog can be achieved very quickly on the cutover, the achievment of active raised bog on the cutover will still take longer than on the high bog as some specialist species appear to be slower to colonise the cutover.
Bird surveys undertaken by Birdwatch Ireland showed that restoration of certain bogs in Offaly and Galway had an almost immediate impact on bird species, with increasing numbers returning not long after bogs were re-wetted.
The project team worked closely with landowners and other stakeholders regarding the aims of the project. The project lead to the creation of two national funding schemes. The Protected Raised Bog Restoration Incentive Scheme which allowed for payments to be made to landowners impacted by the restoration works or where access was required. The project also contributed to the creation of the Peatlands Community Engagement Scheme, an annual support for community groups attached to peatlands country-wide which is operated by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The project ends with a two-day conference which will see delegates experience first-hand the work of the project team on ‘Galway’s Living Bog’ in Mountbellew and on Clara Bog SAC in Co Offaly. Delegates also heard the Government intentions to support the restoration work of the remainder of the bogs in protected raised bog network bogs.