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Bord na Móna and Bog Conservation

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SEAN CANNY, RESOURCE MANAGER, LAND ACQUISITION DEPARTMENT.
Taken from Scéal na Móna, Vol. 13, no. 11, December 1996, p28-29.

Conservation can be defined as taking care of our natural environment and conservation issues usually arise because of human interference in that environment. Questions might be asked about Bord na Móna's direct responsibility in this area, being the largest owner of peatland in the country and the body most readily identified in the public mind with peatlands. The Company doesn't normally acquire sites of special conservation interest; it transfers such sites to the relevant conservation agencies. Its conservation role now centres mainly on education, raising public awareness, and supporting statutory and non~statutory peatland conservation bodies.

Ireland's oceanic raised bogs are considered to be the most important remaining in Europe and are probably the most extensive of their type in the world. This puts Bord na Móna in a privileged position with an onus to conserve examples of these bogs as part of the natural heritage of Ireland and in a wider sense of Europe. It is only in the recent past that public awareness of the intrinsic value of peatlands for their landscape, flora, fauna and aesthetic qualities has developed.

The European Conservation Year (1970) gave the initial impetus for peatland conservation in Ireland. In an internal memorandum of 1969, Bord na Móna's Scientific Officer, T.A. Barry, considered the need to preserve specimen peatland types for scientific and educational purposes. Tom Barry was the Company's great pioneer of conservation, the need to preserve good examples of our natural heritage was always foremost in his vision. The Company decided to purchase part of Pollardstown Fen (28ha) and Raheenmore Bog (162ha) as its contribution to European Conservation Year. These sites were eventually donated to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

During the 1970s Bord na Móna contributed greatly to the Natural Heritage (Peatlands) Section of the Nature, Amenity Conservation and Development Committee of An Foras Forbartha. The Company assisted in the formation of nationwide surveys and in research. By 1976 Bord na Móna was involved in the preservation of bog features already evident within its own areas. These features included mineral soil islands in bogs with their own semi-natural or natural vegetation; and also small areas of raised and blanket bogs and cutaway areas with worthwhile characteristics. Sites conserved then were the 36ha Cranberry Lake site (Derryfadda); an 8ha site at Derrycashel and a 20ha site at Lough Slawn (both in Mountdillon); the 10ha Derryvullagh Island site (Kilberry); 14ha at Lough Boora; a 20ha educational site at Lullymore Lodge; and a 14ha site at Kylemore (Blackwater).

Because of the oil crisis in the mid 1970s a new peatland development programme was initiated by the Government in response to the associated energy problems. Under this programme the Company's ownership of peatland rose from 55,000ha to its maximum level of 88,000ha by 1985. Despite this a balanced approach between the Company's needs and conservation was exercised.

The 1980s brought renewed interest and urgency to peatland conservation with the Wildlife Service; Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC); An Taisce; ecologists and conservationists alike, becoming more active on the issue. Before 1989 the following sites had been conserved and transferred to the Wildlife Service -Pollardstown Fen, Kildare, (28ha); Raheenmore, Offaly, (162ha); Redwood,Tipperary, (162ha); Clara Bog, Offaly, (464ha); Garriskill Bog, Westmeath, (112ha); Sheskin-Knockmoyle, Mayo, (468ha); and Lough Easky East, Sligo,(607ha). Two sites, Bellacorick Iron Flush, Mayo, (8ha); and Mongan, Offaly, (144ha),' were transferred to An Taisce.

At the request of the Wildlife Service, Bord na Móna amended its programme of acquisition in the early 1980s to exclude the following raised bogs because of their conservation potential -Ballykenny­Fisherstown, Longford, (272ha); Rathowen, Westmeath, (182ha); Mouds South, Kildare, (485ha); and Carbury, Kildare, (101ha). Between 1982 and 1987 the Wildlife Service undertook a comprehensive survey of raised bogs. They listed 27 sites as potential nature reserves. These consisted of 7 "Red Flag" sites (i.e., sites of International Scientific Interest with no alternative available); 9 representative sites; and 11 other sites. These sites were mainly concentrated on the Galway-Roscommon border; around the northern end of Lough Derg; and across central Offaly.

Bord na Móna owned 6 of the 7 "Red Flag" sites, all of which are now transferred to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for conservation. The Board also owns one of the representative sites, Knockacolla, which is scheduled for transfer to the Wildlife Service this year.

When the raised bog survey was completed (in 1987) the Government indicated a national conservation target of 10,000ha for raised bogs and 40,000ha for blanket bogs. By the end of the 1980s a clearer picture of the extent of the remaining peatland resource suitable for conservation was emerging. Bord na Móna; the Wildlife Service; and the IPCC; could therefore proceed with a more co-ordinated approach to conservation. In 1989 a revised list of Areas of Scientific Interest was published by the Wildlife Service and this included all the peatlands graded in terms of their potential for conservation. After tripartite discussions between Bord na Móna, the Wildlife Service, and the IPCC, a formal arrangement was arrived at in 1990 whereby: (1) A package of 19 peatland sites of some 2,795 hectares in Bord na Móna ownership would be transferred to the Wildlife Service over a period of 5 to 6 years, and (2) A further 5,200 hectares of privately owned raised bog of prime development potential throughout the country would be excluded from Bord na Móna's development plans as a result of their present conservation potential. The package of sites in (1) is being funded jointly by the Irish Government and the E.C. This package is composed of sites of International, National, and Regional Scientific interest. The raised bog sites of International Interest are -All Saints, Offaly, (112ha); Bellinagare, Roscommon, (580ha); Carrowbehy, Roscommon, (225ha); Curragh-lehanagh, Galway, (160ha); Lough Lurgeen, Galway, (31ha); and Shankill West, Galway, (120ha). The raised bogs of National Interest are -Corbo, Roscommon, (154ha); Crosswood, Westmeath, (33ha); and Trien, Roscommon, (57ha). The Raised bogs of Regional Interest are Canderry, Galway, (45ha); Castlefrench East, Galway, (35ha); Carrownagcappall, Galway, (35ha); Clooncullaun-Funshin, Galway, (118ha); Cloonkerrin, Roscommon, (49ha); Keelogues­Lisnageeragh, Galway, (186ha); Killsallagh, Galway, (12ha); Moorefield, Galway / Roscommon, (25ha); and Moyclare, Offaly, (76ha). Included in the 1990 Agreement is the 577ha blanket bog of International Scientific Interest at Lough Easky West in Sligo.

An area of wet colonised cutaway and a fringe of raised bog of 31ha was donated to Birr Community School Trust for educational and scientific purposes in 1991.

Archaeology

Bord na Móna also supports the archaeological educational potential of its peatlands by assisting in site excavations and studies both financially and with materials and labour and also by sponsoring books and papers on the many aspects of peatland science. Examples of where such assistance was given are (1) Lough Boora Mesolithic Site, (2) Clonmacnoise Heritage Zone, (3) the monitoring of toghers at Bloomhill, Cloniff and Garryduff Bogs, in Blackwater, and at Corlea and other sites in Mountdillon, and (4) the acquisition of sites of archaeological interest such as the Corlea Trackway Site in Co. Longford.

Education

The Company has also co­operated with the IPCC in a schools programme. The aim is to ensure that peat and bogs are better understood. Bord na Móna's Research Scientist, Pat Coffey, has recently taken the bog on a post-primary school classroom tour. Over the past decade the Company has gradually developed a good ecological eye which is giving us a new perception of environmental matters regarding how the future should be.

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