WITH up to 85,000 hectares of land going a-begging, it’s not surprising that even Taoiseach Brian Cowen took an interest in last week’s International Peat Congress in the heart of Cowen territory in Tullamore.
But the draw for the Taoiseach, and for Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan, was the question of what can be done with our vast acreage of cutaway bog?
Peat has been removed systematically from these areas by industrial means. Any peat remaining can no longer be economically removed.
With its turf reserves exhausted this huge resource is heading for 212,000 acres, situated mostly in the midlands and west of Ireland and nearly all owned by Bord na Móna.
It is likely to become mostly wildlife and recreation areas, particularly where there are drainage difficulties.
But there has also been some success with grassland and forestry, on well-drained cutaway areas.
Livestock farmers will take a keen interest because cutaway bogs could potentially become useful grassland areas for adjacent farmers.
Nutritional problems for grazing livestock (especially copper deficiency) are a major obstacle, whereas other problems, like peat subsidence, peat cracking, and fossil timber emergence, can be overcome.
Grazing may be a better bet than forestry. Extensive areas of peatlands were afforested in the 1980s for commercial conifer timber. The success of these plantations was largely poor. Frost, infertility, pests, waterlogging and vegetation competition caused problems.
Restoring some of the forested areas by felling and removing trees, followed by drain-blocking to promote re-wetting of the degraded peatland, has been carried out.
Throughout this week upwards of 500 delegates from more than 20 countries will continue to explore the congress topic, After Wise Use — The Future of Peatlands.
They include well-known scientist and environmental campaigner David Bellamy; Bord na Mona managing director Gabriel D’Arcy, and International Peat Society president Dr Markku Makela.
Next week: utilising our boglands — an interview with David Bellamy.
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