For Peat’s Sake – Shifting Perspectives on Bogland
Opinion on the management of our boglands may vary but there is a widely held love for these distinct landscapes.
In recent weeks I have had both the pleasure and the responsibility of a number of bog visits, and I would like to update you on some of this work.
The good news first: I visited Derrinboy Bog near Kilcormac, and Boora West Bog which is close to Lough Boora Discovery Park. I was accompanied by the Bord na Mona team, including ecologist and engineers, overseeing the re-wetting of these and other bogs via the Peatland Climate Action Scheme.
The rehabilitation work at Derrinbog is currently underway and the site is bare peat. On the morning of my visit it was busy with up to 10 diggers and other machinery working on the formation of a ‘waffle’ or grid-like landscape.
Drains are being removed or blocked and raised ‘burms’ or ‘bunds’ are being created to run in grid form. The aim of these embankments is to retain a shallow area of water in the lower areas to promote establishment of peat-forming vegetation like Sphagnum moss.
A few kilometres north, Boora West is a cutaway bog that has been re-vegetating for a few years and was re-wetted last year.
This work was funded through the Peatland Climate Action Scheme, provided by the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility as part of Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan.
By the end Mar 2023, 38 bogs will have been rehabilitated, representing a total 14,600 hectares. There are over 200 employees engaged in bog rehabilitation work at present.
During my visit I was delighted to hear that a pair of Common Crane successfully hatched two chicks on rewetted cutaway bog this year, proof positive that these newly created wetlands, like the one we walked at Boora West, are already providing habitat for important species of insects as well as birds and other wildlife. Sphagnum moss, a key species of peatlands, is already starting to reappear too.
Why is this important? Peatlands are vast carbon stores and play an important role in mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity and minimising flood risk, amongst other benefits. On average, when a peatland is dry or damaged it emits between 4-15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. Conversely, an intact peatland sequesters, on average, approximately 2 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
It is also extremely positive for our common future that these rehabilitated bogs do and will offer a landscape that people can interact with and enjoy.
And the not so good news? My office receives regular calls from concerned members of the public regarding possible illegal activity on bogs across Offaly and Laois. This ranges from illegal dumping to the extraction of peat.
Illegal dumping is something my Green Party colleague Minister Ossian Smyth is tackling head on through the application of the Circular Economy Act 2022. A code of practice permitting local councils to use CCTV footage in prosecutions for illegal dumping and littering is being prepared with a view to the new law being put into effect later this year.
Illegal peat extraction for turf or horticultural peat is unfortunately quite widespread. This is where no turbary right or planning permission exists. When it is brought to my attention I follow it up with the County Council who are, in most cases, the enforcement authority. I will not stand by when a bog in Laois or Offaly is being depleted by illegal activity.
To end on a high note – I will soon have the pleasure of opening an art exhibition by visual artist Kathrine Geoghegan entitled ‘Bogland’ in The City Assembly House, Irish Georgian Society, Dublin
The exhibition runs from 5th September to 17th September 2022, 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. Bogland is an exhibition of works exploring and describing Ireland’s peatlands through its mysterious plants. I know from corresponding with Kathrine that her purpose with this exhibition is to encourage us to view bogland as both a habitat for wildlife, and as a means of carbon sequestration in the fight against climate change. Although very relevant, that is relatively recent, and for many, still radical thinking: Art has such an important role to play in helping to shift perspectives.