On World Peatlands Day 2020 (02 June), ‘The Living Bog’ Irish raised bog restoration project, co-funded by the NPWS of the Department of Housing, Heritage & Local Government and the EU’s LIFE programme was nominated for one of Europe’s top environmental awards.
The Living Bog, which commenced in 2016 and finishes in December 2021, was among 27 international finalists for the European Commission’s Natura 2000 Awards.
The awards recognise excellence in the management of Natura 2000 sites. The work of Living Bog Public Awareness Manager Ronan Casey with an impressive public awareness campaign and his work with local community groups attached to project sites, saw The Living Bog is nominated in the ‘Communications’ category.
Ronan’s work on communicating the importance of raised bogs and Natura 2000 sites and the work in the local community and the involvement of community groups and individuals – including former turf cutters – in project actions was recognised by the European Union’s environmental bodies as being particularly impressive.
A high-level jury decided on five winners, but from the finalists the public will also chooses its winner: The Citizens’ Award. The Living Bog finished third in this area.
Since the Natura 2000 awards started in 2014, there have been no Irish winners in any category.
The Living Bog was delighted to have been nominated.
Congratulating the project team on the nomination, the then Minister with responsibility for Heritage, Josepha Madigan TD, commented: “I am delighted that the work of the Living Bog with local communities has been recognised with its nomination for a Natura 2000 Award. This project aims to restore raised bog across 12 raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) across seven counties. Encouraging local community involvement is a significant element of the project. I wish to congratulate Ronan and the project team on its outstanding efforts to promote awareness of peatland restoration in the local and wider community.”
The project is funded by the EU LIFE 2014-2020 Nature and Biodiversity Fund, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government the co-ordinating beneficiary. The project is undertaken by a five-person project team located in the heart of the Irish midlands ‘peat district’ in Mullingar with many local contractors from the midlands region carrying out works throughout seven counties and also lending assistance in areas such as hydrology and ecology. The economic spin-off from the project was estimated to have been over €3m to the midlands region.
The aim of the project is to improve the conservation status of the priority habitat Active Raised Bog (EU Habitat Code 7110). This is being achieved by drain blocking with peat and plastic dams, barrier dam construction and other restoration and improvement measures. In total, almost 200km of drains have been blocked by the project with c.10,000 dams installed.
It is the project’s work in communities and communicating the importance of peatlands and the Natura 2000 Network that has been recognised by the EU. An active programme of community events, from walks and talks to children’s nature camps saw the Living Bog project establish a foothold in local communities. Community volunteers gave up many hours of their time to assist at project events and also to help on many project actions. This was further supported by an intensive social media campaign and web promotional work. A major schools outreach project was also launched. Over 100 schools were involved and children were encouraged to learn more about peatlands and bogs and espouse the benefits of restoration at home and socially.
Working with local community groups, the project is currently delivering or set to deliver amenity and educational facilities, including boardwalks, walking routes and educational parks, at five locations – pending planning permission decisions for a number of sites. It is anticipated that these developments will generate local health, social and economic benefits.
Notes for Editors:
The bogs involved in The Living Bog project (www.raisedbogs.ie) : Ardagullion Bog SAC, Co. Longford; Carrowbehy Bog SAC, Gorthaganny, Co. Roscommon; Derrinea Bog SAC, Co. Roscommon; Clara Bog SAC, Moyclare Bog SAC, Mongan Bog SAC, Raheenmore Bog SAC, Sharavogue Bog SAC, and Ferbane Bog SAC, all Co. Offaly; Garriskil Bog SAC, Co. Westmeath; Killyconny Bog SAC, Mullagh Co. Cavan / Co. Meath; and Carrownagappul Bog SAC, Mountbellew, Co. Galway.
The project aims to re-create the eco-hydrological conditions on these sites to consolidate over 750 ha of Active Raised Bog within an overall area of almost 2,700 ha of raised bog habitat improved. Restoration works have been completed on ten of the 12 project sites and are being monitored closely to identify site response in relation to hydrology, ecology and water chemistry. To date, results have been positive, especially in the area of cutover restoration.
Cutovers are where peat was extracted from the raised bogs in the past, and novel restoration techniques have seen many rare flora and fauna re-populate the sites relatively quickly after restoration works have taken place.
Active raised bogs once covered over 766,000 acres of the Irish midlands (Hammond, 1979). Turf extraction and peat harvesting on an industrial scale along with other activities have, however, stripped much of this away, to the extent that approx. 9% of the original raised bog resource remains in protected sites with less than 1% (1,639 ha) of active raised bog left nationally.
To endeavor to ensure the protection of the remaining peatlands, 53 raised bog sites were nominated for designation as SAC/Natura 2000 sites in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
The Natura 2000 Awards
The Natura 2000 Award is designed to reward excellence in the management of Natura 2000 sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas) and showcase the added value of the network. It pays tribute to all those who work to make Natura 2000 a success whilst drawing public attention to its substantial achievements.
The Natura 2000 network works to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, and is the centre piece of the EU’s nature and biodiversity policy. It is currently made up of over 27,800 sites. In total, it covers almost a fifth of Europe’s land area and almost 10% of the EU marine areas, making it the largest coordinated network of conservation areas anywhere in the world.
In 2014, the European Commission launched the annual European Natura 2000 Awards; the aim of which was to demonstrate what the network is, what it does to preserve Europe’s biodiversity, and how it benefits us all. The finalists chosen represent the efforts by Europeans to protect and restore nature in the EU – through conservation actions on the ground, by raising awareness about species and habitats, by highlighting the socio-economic benefits of the Natura 2000 network and by bringing stakeholders together. To date, no Irish project has won an award at the award ceremonies, held each year in Brussels.
The Living Bog: www.raisedbogs.ie and @LIFEraisedbogs on Facebook and Twitter.
Natura 2000 Awards: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/awards/index_en.htm
National Parks and Wildlife Service: www.npws.ie
LIFE Programme: https://ec.europa.eu/easme/en/life
The Living Bog had a very active Heritage Week, with a number of key events happening throughout the period of August 18 – 27.
All of our events were a success with numbers way above what we expected or estimated, so thank you to one and all who attended, or even checked in online. Valuable community and heritage links are established during Heritage Week, so it was great to bring the word of raised bog restoration and The Living Bog to so many.
The week started off on Friday August 18 with The Living Bog being chosen as a showpiece Heritage Week provider by radio station Midlands 103. Their top-rated show, the Will Faulkner Show which airs 9am-12pm did an outside broadcast from Clare Bog Visitor Centre to celebrate the start of Heritage Week, and Ronan Casey from the Living Bog and Rebecca Dobson from Clara Visitor Centre were both on air to bring the bogs to the nation. Also on the show were Heritage Officers from Counties Offaly, Westmeath and Laois. It was a great opportunity to talk abo0ut the Living Bog and raised bogs in general, and it was a pleasure to do.
One of our signature events was our ‘LIFE on Westmeath’s Bogs’ talk in Streete Parish Park & Community Centre (close to Garriskil Bog SAC). Here, we hosted an informative evening talk with Ronan Casey (The Living Bog), Manchán Magan (author/broadcaster) and Trióna Finnen (NPWS) talking about all aspects of the bog story – from restoration work and the Living Bog to the cultural significance of bogs to the life that raised bogs support. Over 60 attended the event, which was supported by Westmeath County Council, and attendees came from the local communities in Streete, Lismacaffrey, Rathowen and Ballinalack as well as Mullingar, Longford, Dublin and rural Westmeath.
The venue was perfect with delightful cakes and tea/coffee rounding off the night, and the event received very positive press coverage before and after, particularly in local newspapers the Westmeath Topic and the Westmeath Examiner. An extensive poster campaign in North Westmeath also worked fine.
Two bog walks were organised on Clara Bog SAC in Co. Offaly. The first walk on the Wednesday was hit by bad weather, but we ploughed on regardless! However, better things were to come later in the week with the Friday walk a big success with over 40 in attendance, with tourists from Japan, visitors from Dublin and others from all over the midlands among those enjoying an informative guided walk from Ronan Casey (The Living Bog) and Rebecca Dobson (Clara Bog Visitor Centre). The Tullamore Tribune newspaper tagged along and the event received good coverage in it and on Midlands 103 FM.
Another big Living Bog showpiece event was our revival of Mullagh Day on the Bog. The long-planned revival of the former local festival celebrating Killyconny Bog SAC took place on Saturday August 26th and saw the local St Kilian’s Heritage Trust committee assisting Ronan Casey and Jack McGauley of The Living Bog. The enjoyable day featured old turf-cutting equipment displays and talks about the days of old on the bog at St Kilian’s Heritage Centre in Mullagh town, before the crowd were bussed out to Killyconny Bog SAC for a walk and talk by Ronan and Jack. Over 50 were in attendance and as the lads got the walk underway on the bog, there was more left waiting at the Centre, such was demand! The crowds were not just local, with tourists from Asia and America, plus people from Derry, Dublin, Kells, Navan and Drogheda enjoying the walk. There was a great atmosphere on the bog and in the town on the day, and it is hoped the event will be built on for next year.
To tie in with the event, we re-posted videos by local man Jim Smith to YouTube of old events from 1997 – 1999. These have attracted a lot of attention. A photograph display at St Kilian’s Heritage Centre was also well-received.
A few weeks before the event, a special radio outside broadcast from Mullagh Heritage Centre was arranged by Shannonside Northernsound’s Joe Finnegan Show. Ronan Casey from The Living Bog was invited along to talk about ‘Mullagh Day on the Bog’, the Living Bog and the St Kilian’s Heritage Trust event on Killyconny Bog SAC. The broadcast went down well, and Ronan has been back on the station since talking about The Living Bog.