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Catherine Ni Chiarda who is involved in a bog rewetting project at Parteen. Photograph by John Kelly

Beautiful bogs have vital role in combating climate change


For the latest in our climate change series, Bridget Ginnity speaks to Catherine Ní Ciardha one of the first bog owners in Ireland to restore a raised bog to its original state to halt biodiversity loss and combat climate change

There used to be an old milestone outside my house near Parteen showing it is four miles to Limerick city, yet I live down a country road that is even too narrow for the bin lorries.

At the end of the road is 30 acres of bog that I own in Shanakyle Bog. It’s one of the few raised bogs in Clare.

I always looked after the bog, and never did anything to damage it, but then I thought, what happens when I pop my clogs, what will happen then?

The University of Limerick and the city are coming closer and closer and I wanted to preserve it as a natural space for wildlife and future generations.

The lungs of Ireland

I contacted an ecologist I know who explained how a natural bog is a really effective carbon sink. A natural, wet bog takes in lots of carbon from the atmosphere but when it has been drained and worked, it releases the carbon that was built up over time.

I hadn’t realised how beneficial a bog was to the climate until then. It does even more than the Amazon forest.

I got great help and practical advice about restoring the bog from Barry O’Loughlin (ecologist) and from the Community Wetlands Forum.

Community groups can apply for an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) grant through the Department of Agriculture to cover the entire costs. You can form a community group with family members. My brother and sister-in-law joined me together with a local, Kate O’Loughlin.

To rewet the bog, the drains that had been put in to dry out the bog were blocked, mostly using peat that was there. When you look at it now, six months later, you’d hardly notice. Sphagnum moss is spreading, which is a good sign.

The grant was €55k which sounds like a lot, but that’s what the total cost came to.

The ground work took a couple of weeks and we had to get various ecology and hydrology reports. It was important that we weren’t going to flood neighbouring land.
We also had to remove some invasive species; a couple of rhododendron bushes, Himalayan Balsam and a bit of hogweed near the river.

The low fields

About 14 acres of low-lying field beside the bog is included in the project. A local farmer keeps horses there which is good for keeping the grass down and encouraging wildflowers. We have loads of orchids and other wildflower there. Nothing is spread or sprayed on it.

We dug a pond and created a place for the smooth newt to hibernate in by burying a pile of stones and covering it in thatch.

There’s a band of birch trees between the field and the bog and we put up bird boxes there.

I was surprised they were needed but it seems it helps to protect them from predators. A few trees came down during a recent storm and we have left the log piles for nature.

Already I can see a difference in the wildlife. The ducks are back, and there are a lot more birds. We have sparrow hawk, buzzard, kestrel and long-eared owl.

Sometimes I see a barn owl flying past the house. Hopefully we get more birds that are protected to come in and nest.

Turf wars

When I lived in Limerick, I remember walking home from work and I knew I was nearly home when I could get the smell of the fires – the place was filled with smoke.

It made a huge difference when they banned smoky coal. I’ve bad lungs and I could feel the difference. Smog kills and I think it helps if people see the figures because they help to understand that it’s necessary to control it.

I can see the two sides of the debate about burning turf that’s going on now. We all love the smell of a turf fire I think, older people especially.

From a climate point of view, there’s more to be concerned about with coal and oil than about burning a small amount of turf.

Shanakyle bog hadn’t been worked for a long time – I think the last time was in WWII. Sometimes you see an old sleán from when it was used.

Most of the people who owned a bank of turf have died off and the families live in town and mightn’t even know that they have it, or have no interest in the hard work of digging turf.

Sharing the benefit

Going up the bog on a warm evening is just lovely. It makes a difference to the area as well. Local people I meet are delighted and some people who live around hadn’t realised the bog was here.

I’m happy to have organised groups to visit, like field trips from the local colleges. The University of Limerick will be doing a study to see how it develops and determine how much carbon it is taken up over the years.

Birdwatch Ireland are planning to come – they might spot something that I wouldn’t recognise. We’re careful about people disturbing nesting though.

My motivation initially was looking after the wildlife but doing so much for the climate as well is a win-win.

We’re hoping to encourage farmers with bogs to restore theirs as well but at the moment farmers don’t get a payment for it. It would be great if they did.

How does your garden grow?

At the start I would have been a “spray this, spray that” type of gardener but after reading up on it, I realised that nature isn’t tidy and I’ve let it go a bit wild. I leave about a third of the weeds and always leave daisies.

This is the first year I’ve got my head around accepting dandelions, I’ve made peace with them now. If you saw them in another country and didn’t know anything about them, you would think they were beautiful flowers.

I leave nettles around too and you see all the butterflies around them. I find the cultivated flowers tend not to attract the bees and insects as much.

You don’t need a big lawn unless you have kids playing or whatever. The reason they came about was when the big estate house wanted to show they had so much money they didn’t need to grow food there. It was showing off!

If you let the grass grow and simply mow a path through it, it can look really lovely.

I think people are moving bit by bit to this attitude. If you go into a garden centre though, lots of the products are to kill things in the garden – kill the slugs, kill the moss, kill the ants.

I used to think some pesticides were safe but then realised that they can kill birds if they eat something that fed on the pesticide.

What I can do?

I’ve become more aware of how much petrol I use in the car and try to reduce it because of the climate. I’m less inclined to go for a spin in the car just for the sake of it.

Since Covid, I work remotely four days a week and many others are working remotely too. It’s great for the climate and saves money. And it’s so much better for mental health when you are not stressing out sitting in traffic.

I don’t do much air travel, other than visits to my sister in the UK and maybe an annual holiday. I hope they find ways to reduce the carbon emissions from planes in the future.

I looked into upgrading my house and was told that after the grants it would be €25k. It’s very expensive.

I have already insulated the walls and attic so don’t think I could justify it. My oil boiler is old and inefficient and I’d like if they gave small grants for a more efficient boiler.
I’m mainly vegetarian, both from an animal welfare and climate point of view.

I don’t like to think of eating something that was living and breathing and I don’t think it’s good use of land. Maybe we’ll all be eating insects in years to come.

I separate my waste and food waste goes to compost that I use in the garden. Because the bin trucks don’t come up our road, I end up driving eight miles to the recycling centre in Mungret which isn’t very environmentally friendly.

Recently someone dumped a load of rubbish on our road, including a pink bike and other children’s toys. I can understand how it comes about as we need better collection facilities but it can be quite upsetting to see.

Small things add up

I think everyone is getting a bit better about climate actions. You see more electric cars and such like but I’m also afraid people will get tired of hearing about the climate, that it will be a fad.

Rather than lecturing people, things like David Attenborough’s documentaries can make people think more.

Everyone can do something small, it doesn’t have to be big. And the more you do, the more you get involved in it. Even in an apartment you can have a window box where you can have a few bits and pieces.

A lot of small things could be done that don’t cost anything. For example, there’s a lawn cemetery in Castlemungret where everyone has to keep their individual grave mown.
It would be lovely if it was just planted with wildflowers, and much easier for everyone.

We need more public transport. It can take me an hour to get into work in Limerick, mainly due to school traffic.

There’s very little connection to places like the university, the airport and Raheen Industrial Estate. If public transport worked well, people would much prefer it.

When the coronavirus hit, the government responded quickly and put lots of money into it. They could do the same for climate actions if they really wanted to, such as getting renewable electricity sorted.

We’re going to destroy the planet – we’re already seeing floods, wildfires and ice caps melting. It’s sink or swim, we have to do something about the climate, we’ve no choice.

The joy of nature

Mary Reynolds is a landscape designer who one day saw a fox, two hares and a family of hedgehogs run and scuttle across her garden.

A neighbour was clearing out a section of a field to build a house and cleared out the wildlife too. Mary realised that much of her garden design work was also destroying the ecosystem, and she simply hadn’t given it a thought.

She formed an organisation called We are the ARK (Acts of Restorative Kindness) to support and encourage people to weave a patchwork of safe havens for nature. When I see something like that, it lifts my heart.

You always feel better in the countryside. I grew up in the heart of the city but always loved animals and wildlife. Bring kids to a forest and their imagination runs wild.

People talk about leaving their children their house or their money but I don’t think you can give them anything better than a planet.

A BIT ABOUT BOGS…

Blanket bog covers large areas of our uplands and Atlantic coastal areas where vegetation rots very slowly due to the cool and wet conditions. Europe’s largest area of blanket bog is in Ireland and the UK.

There is estimated to have been about 775,000 hectares of blanket bog in Ireland, although less than 30% of this area remains relatively intact.

Raised bog like Shanakyle bog is formed in lowland areas, often from the build-up of woody and rotting vegetation in depressions and lakes.

It is estimated that originally there was approximately 310,000 hectares of raised bog in Ireland. Over half of the remaining raised bog in the European Atlantic region is in Ireland.

Around 21% of blanket bog in Ireland is considered to be “active”, in that it is actively growing peat and taking up carbon from the atmosphere. By comparison, only 0.5% of the area of raised bog remains in this condition.

Bogs typically store twice the amount of carbon as forests do. The overall climate benefit from restoring Shanakyle Bog is about 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
Restored bogs also reduce flooding, purify and regulate water supply and support biodiversity.

About Bridget Ginnity

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