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The peatlands of the Irish Midlands are among the most important raised bog systems remaining in Europe. It is estimated that the Republic of Ireland contains 50% of the intact oceanic raised bog systems remaining in Europe (O’ Connell, 1998). Raised bog habitat was once extensive over the Midlands and mid-west of Ireland, covering an estimated 310,000ha (Hammond, 1979), however today it is estimated that a mere 18,000ha of raised bog habitat of conservation value remain (Derwin et al., 2002). Most of the loss of raised bog habitat is a result of harvesting of peat for household fuel, electricity production and the manufacture of horticultural products. Afforestation of raised bogs has also resulted in habitat loss, but on a much smaller scale – it is estimated that about 2% of the original total area of Irish raised bogs has been afforested (Ryan & Cross, 1984). Most of the afforested areas of raised bogs are currently under the ownership of Coillte Teoranta.
Since 1997, 10,290ha of “high” raised bog has been proposed for designation in candidate SACs (Dúchas, pers. comm.), under the EU Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). Many of these SACs include areas of cutover bog which typically surround the intact bog cores and act as a buffer between the intact bog and surrounding farmland. This project focuses on forestry plantations within these SACs, included because they continue to impact on the raised bog habitat. In line with national and EU efforts to conserve raised bog habitat, Coillte has undertaken actions aimed at restoring active raised bog habitat on 14 sites, all owned and managed by Coillte Teoranta, that have been partially or wholly afforested. The project sites cover 571ha within 14 candidate SACs, spread over 7 counties.
The project sites will be incorporated into Coillte’s biodiversity programme (Coillte, 2000, 2001, 2002), in that they will continue to be managed with nature conservation as the primary management objective. Two of the project sites (No’s 8 and 11) have been selected as project Demonstration Sites; these will be the focus of a public awareness programme over a four-year period.
This project has addressed the main ecological threats which affected raised bog habitats through the following actions:
In addition to restoring active raised bog habitat in previously afforested/drained areas, it is also expected that restoration will have a positive effect on adjoining intact bog that has been subject to drainage effects. Bog restoration techniques on afforested peatland systems pioneered in the LIFE funded projects in Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK) have been further developed in this project. Links with LIFE-funded projects with an emphasis on tree clearance will also be made. This restoration project will build on a previous LIFE-funded project, managed by Dúchas The Heritage Service, in which conservation management plans were prepared for Irish SACs.
This is the largest single raised bog restoration project to be undertaken in Ireland. At the end of this project, significant habitat restoration work will have been completed on over 5% of the national area of raised bog conserved in SACs – a significant contribution to conservation of the most valuable raised bog habitat in Europe. The project will serve as a hands-on demonstration of the best approaches to restoration of raised bog habitats.