The Bord na Mona Raised Bog Restoration Project
If you travel through the Irish midlands, you will eventually come across Bord na Móna peat production bogs. These areas are now a significant part of the Irish midlands landscape. Bord na Móna developed these bogs for fuel, security of energy supply and growing media. Bog development also provided jobs, economic security and supported local communities. But not all these bogs were completely developed for industrial peat production. Travel north of Ballinasloe through some of the lesser known by-roads along the River Suck and you may pass some other Bord na Móna bogs that were partially drained but never fully developed.
Bord na Móna carried out a baseline ecological assessment of all its properties in 2009-2012, as part of its Biodiversity Action Plan. Several midlands raised bogs that were initially partially drained in the 1980s in anticipation of peat production were identified as having substantial ecological and conservation value, as well as significant bog restoration potential as they still retained natural bog vegetation. Bord na Móna decided to conserve and restore these bogs. These sites now form the core of the Bord na Móna Raised Bog Restoration programme (2009-present).
Raised bogs are threatened habitats as only a small proportion of ‘active’ (peat-forming) bog still exists in Ireland. They contain a wide range of different species, many of which are threatened or under pressure in the wider landscape and are dependent on these peatland habitats. Raised bogs like to be wet, very wet. So, the key to raised bog restoration, is the restoration of this wetness and the bog’s hydrology, encouraging the natural regeneration of bog species like Sphagnum. These mosses are a key species of raised bogs and require water-logged nutrient-poor conditions to thrive. Peat-forming or ‘active’ bog habitat is rich in Sphagnum species.
The main objective of the Bord na Móna Raised Bog Restoration programme is to restore raised bog habitats by blocking drains and restoring bog hydrology. Re-wetting the bog can aid the development of Sphagnum-rich plant communities and restore peatland habitat function. The methodology used for bog restoration was developed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) under the Dutch-Irish Restoration programme in the 1990s and has also been used extensively by the NPWS and by Coillte. Drains are blocked using peat dams constructed by a specially modified excavator.
As the programme is in early stages, no definitive conclusions about the impacts of the restoration can be made yet. However, in general, water levels have responded quickly and are being maintained close to the bog surface. Specific habitat condition monitoring at Abbeyleix Bog and Cuckoo Hill Bog has shown there has already been a notable increase in Sphagnum cover in some sites already and there have been increases in ‘active’ raised bog habitat. Monitoring of greenhouse gases has also taken place at Moyarwood Bog over 5 year period (NEROS project, funded by EPA and Bord na Móna) to assess the potential offset of carbon emissions with final results expected in 2018. Over 1200 ha of raised bog has now been restored by Bord na Móna at 12 different sites so far, and restoration work will continue with a further 1,000 ha of bog targeted through Cos, Roscommon, Westmeath, Longford and Tipperary.
In addition to restoring and conserving biodiversity, this bog restoration programme can also provide significant ecosystem services including maintaining storage of carbon within these bogs and the enhancement of active peat-forming Sphagnum-rich vegetation within these sites, creating carbon sinks in time. Re-wetting can also help attenuate flooding within catchments and improve water quality. Bog restoration within these sites, in addition to other raised bog restoration projects completed by Coillte and currently being undertaken by NPWS will also help Ireland meet its biodiversity objectives including commitments to conserve raised bog habitats via the EU Habitats Directive. The majority of the sites restored so far are being considered for designation as part of the NATURA 2000 Special Area of Conservation network or as part of the national conservation network as Natural Heritage Areas – see the National Peatlands Strategy www. npws.ie.
Bog restoration can also help provide sites for amenity and education to local communities, such as the community-led Abbeyleix Bog Project. In 2010, Moore Gun Club approached Bord na Móna about the development of a conservation project at Ballydangan in Co. Roscommon focused on Red Grouse. This site still held low numbers of this peatland bird, which is particularly rare now on lowland bogs. Since then, 234 ha of the bog have been leased by Bord na Móna to this local group for the development of a community project, which now employs several local people through a community employment scheme (Department of Social Protection). While Grouse numbers remain low so far, conservation management has already boosted numbers of breeding Curlew, whose breeding population has significantly declined in recent years. Ballydangan and surrounding bogs remain an important stronghold for this iconic bird species. Bord na Móna has now completed bog restoration work on Ballydangan Bog with 3744 peat dams constructed to block drains, helping to re-wet the bog.
Bord na Móna is transitioning, away from the traditional peat-based business towards other more sustainable businesses, such as renewable energy. In 2008, the company announced that no new bog areas (i.e. no previously un-drained bog areas) would be developed for industrial peat production. In 2015, Bord na Mona set out its 2030 strategy to transition from traditional peat-based activities and to cease peat production for electricity generation. Future company strategy will balance commercial development of the new cutaway landscape with its biodiversity and amenity/social value. The Bord na Móna Raised Bog Restoration Project forms part of this strategy. This work continues to be funded under the Bord na Móna Biodiversity Action Plan.
Mark McCorry, Ecologist, Bord na Móna
For more information, visit http://www. bordnamona.ie/company/bord-na-mona-story/ biodiversity/