Go easy on the turf, for peat’s sake

OF the thousands of people out walking during the bank holiday, some will choose bogs and general peatland areas, but how many really understand how unique that landscape is?

A much-publicised controversy, which has been raging about the turf-cutting ban in parts of the country, centres on the fuel aspect, but bogs also have many other values. They have become magical havens where people can relax in the bracing fresh air and enjoy plant and animal life not seen in other places.

Ireland holds some of the last remaining and most valuable bogs in Europe. And, with bans on turf-cutting set to continue, bogs will increasingly be seen as recreational and protected areas.

Those of us who grew up near bogs well know that cutting and harvesting turf is hard work. Back-breaking toil aside, however, we also have happy memories of long, sunny days in the bog, especially when a meitheal, or group of people, was involved.

There was no better place to put an edge on the appetite and it was vital that all those who laboured were well fed. Some people would boil their kettles on turf fires which provided a distinct peaty taste that made ‘bog tay’ in the open air so different. Others brought their tea in a whiskey bottle wrapped in a woolen sock. Eggs, also boiled in the bog, and slivers of bacon were other lunch-time staples before sandwiches and packets of Marietta took over.

That was also the era of the slean, a spade-like implement that in skilled hands sliced turf neatly and cleanly from bank. Then about 30 years ago turf cutting machines and ‘hoppers’ began to take over, often raping the bog landscape and destroying some of it forever. Neither has excess tree-planting helped the bogs.

Recently, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) launched an information and awareness campaign celebrating the importance of peat.

The IPCC’s Dr Catherine O’Connell said that despite the fact that we have been cutting turf for nearly 400 years, the vast majority of Irish people know little or nothing about peatlands.

Peatlands, she explained, are wetlands that have been part of the landscape for 10,000 years, accumulating peat at a rate of 1mm per year. They are part of the fabric of our countryside and an iconic landscape renowned all over the world and are a natural store of carbon and water. “Peat is easily destroyed by digging, cutting, draining, burning, overgrazing and erosion,” she said.

The IPCC has started to hold workshops and trials to help restore the living plant skin onto bare peat areas of bogs, which have been damaged over the years.

* For more information: www.ipcc.ie

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