Preserving turf bogs for future

PATRICK KAVANAGH, a poet with a remarkable feel for rural life, once said that a man that cannot find happiness and contentment in a turf bog is a ‘’bad case’’. As someone that walks in bogs year-round, I fully concur.

Nowadays, the powers-that-be at home and in Brussels want to preserve what remains of our raised boglands. The bogs will be saved, but this a not a new idea. More than 40 years ago, a revolutionary paper by a Bord na Móna property manager called Tom Barry inspired the biggest conservation and ecology programme ever in Ireland.

Barry worked closely with Gerry McNally who recalls that, ultimately, Barry’s vision was vital to the preservation of thousands of acres of Irish bogs for future generations.

Prior to Barry’s paper, the objective of the State was to transform the bogs into agriculture prairie and forestry. There was a belief that underneath the peat was really great land that could be turned into forestry and crop-production.

However, the more the forestry experts investigated the layers of peat and oil that make up Irish bog lands, the more convinced they became that the sub-soils underneath the bogs could not support agribusiness.

Gerry McNally says that Barry believed our peatlands were unique in Europe and some, as little as two per cent, had to be conserved for the future. He spent a long time persuading the authorities that the original dream of new farmland was not going to happen.

Bord na Mona relented and, in 1973, gave the green light to the conservation and preservation of Raheenmore Bog, in Co Offaly, and Pollardstown Fen, in Co Kildare. By the 1980s, it was decided to conserve many more and different peatlands and a programme of conservation works was agreed with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bord na Mona, which is often accused of large-scale peatland destruction, is now actively rehabilitating bogs that were commercially harvested in the past. Across the country, drains are being blocked and work is underway to transform used bogs into rich and diverse habitats for plants and animals.

Senior ecologist in the company Catherine Farrell points to former commercial bogs, such as Abbeyleix, Lullymore and Lough Boora, as examples of the work that has been done to transform thousands of acres into “hotspots of biodiversity”. Over 800 acres of restored bogland will be added to the total this year and work will continue.

Future generations will be able to find that rare comfort that goes with a day on the bog — much of it thanks to one Tom Barry.


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