A land owner in south-east Clare has provided a major boost for biodiversity thanks to the help of a local ecologist, writes Dan Danaher.
Substantial work has already been completed near Parteen on the first raised bog restoration and rewetting project in Clare on private land.
Shanakyle Bog Restoration and Habitat Enhancement Project is a locally-led European Innovation Partnership (EIP) scheme project headed by ecologist Barry O’Loughlin and landowner Catherine Ní Ciardha of Shanakyle Bog Restoration Group.
The group hopes that other land owners will follow this example by undertaking similar projects over the coming years.
Ms Ní Ciardha decided to embark on this project to help address climate change and hopes to turn this land into a wildlife sanctuary.
“Wildlife is getting less and less. I want to encourage the return of birds and biodiversity. I have noticed a decline in swallows in recent years,” she said.
Shanakyle bog is of conservation interest as it supports three Annex One peatland habitat types listed on the EU Habitats Directive.
The project involved installing peat dams, peat bunds and overflow pipes on 30 acres of raised bog habitat to repair degraded peatland habitats by raising water levels to create optimal conditions for the growth of Sphagnum mosses, the main peat forming agent of active raised bogs.
Rewetting of Shanakyle Bog EIP, County Clare’s first raised bog restoration project. Our work will:
– Create Active Raised Bog and Sphagnum
– Promote carbon sequestration to combat climate
– Halt biodiversity loss
– Provide ecosystem goods and services! pic.twitter.com/foJczAHJ7l
— Barry O'Loughlin (@BarryOLochlainn) January 14, 2022
The result of this work will conserve rare peatland habitats for biodiversity and create favourable baseline conditions for carbon sequestration to combat climate change.
A five-year study of Moyarwood Bog in Galway found 1.57 tonnes of carbon per hectare were released into the atmosphere, while the rewetted section took in 0.78 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year back into the bog.
Rewetting the bogs keeps the remaining carbon reserve within the bog and at the same time slows down and stops carbon emissions and starts the process of taking carbon back into the bog once Sphagnum and bog vegetation grows, which is almost immediate following rewetting.
The group expects a similar trajectory for Shanakyle Bog and hope to carry out potential research projects with University of Limerick.
In general, a one metre depth of peatland can store between 400 to 500 tonnes of carbon per hectare.
In addition to halting biodiversity loss, this project will provide ecosystem goods and services.
Other biodiversity and enhancement measures will include managing 16 acres of adjoining grassland for wildflower meadow creation for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths.
There will be no application of fertilizer and pesticides, bracken control will be undertaken in addition to applying a low grazing stocking regime.
The project involves the removal of problematic invasive species including rhododendron, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed.
Bat boxes and bird boxes will be installed including boxes for endangered red-listed birds of conservation concern such as barn owl and kestrel and other protected birds including sand martins, tree creepers and common farmland and woodland passerines. There will also be signage installation and the creation of a nature trail.
There are plans to create log piles for frogs and insects. Part of the project involved the creation of a wetland pond, which will serve as a wildlife refuge for amphibi, damselflies, wetland plants and birds. A stone hibernacula has been constructed for smooth newt.
“Our ongoing work with landowners and the farming community will transform degraded peatland landscapes to healthy ecosystems supporting a diverse range of habitats, flora and fauna in addition to repairing peatlands to function as natural carbon sinks once more,” Mr O’Loughlin explained.
“It is our hope that other landowners and farmers across Clare will adopt a similar project and there are several support systems and funding streams to allow this to happen.”
Mr O’Loughlin said water is being retained on this high bog again for the first time in 80 years. The ‘donot’ method of placing a sod of vegetation in the middle of a borrow pit seems to kick-start vegetation colonisation quicker.
He pointed out it is vital the water levels on the cutaway bog on the land have to be kept to a certain level of about 30 cms to foster the growth of Sphagnum mosses. If water is too deep, he explained wetland plants will not grow.
When there is turf cutting, drainage or afforestation, this causes the bog to degrade and the Sphagnum mosses to die off. This can result in the bog becoming a carbon source.
The project is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine) EIP scheme with a €55,000 grant under the Rural Development Programme.
Shanakyle Bog Restoration EIP is unique in that this is one of only a handful of peatland restoration projects to be undertaken on privately-owned lands across the country.
The majority of peatland restoration and rewetting projects are concentrated on state-owned lands belonging to Bord na Mona and Coillte.
“Three or four farmers may own a bog in Clare. They could secure a financial payment to re-wet this bog through a locally-led EIP project,” said Mr O’Loughlin.
“This model could help farmers achieve carbon credits. We would like to see this project being spread throughout Clare.”
The land in Shanakyle has been farmed for almost 200 years. It was previously a mixed farm with dairy cows, pigs and a vegetable garden run by the O’Dwyers.
Initially Ms Ní Ciardha looked at the possibility of planting forestry on the bog but didn’t like what happened to nature when the trees would have to be cut down.
“I have a barn owl and long-eared owl on the bog as well as loads of bats,” she said. “We are putting in bat and barn owl boxes. I hope a lot of new wildlife will return in the summer time.
The bog hasn’t been in productive use for decades.
“When turf was cut in the bog previously, land owners would put in drains to dry out the land. We are actually filling in these drains. We secured a hydrologist to choose what drains should be covered in to ensure we didn’t flood another person’s land.
“The bog will get wetter and wetter. The bog will start growing again. It was one of the few bogs that was growing because most bogs are not growing.
“Bogs are a great carbon sink. There was nothing being done with the bog so I felt why not return it to nature.”
There are plans for bog walks and talks to increase public awareness and in the coming years, she is considering planting more broadleaf trees on her land.