Bord na Móna rehabilitated nearly 5,200 hectares (about 12,800 acres) of peatlands in 2021, a feat which has captured at least 7.5 million tonnes of carbon.
The achievement is due to a large-scale rehabilitation scheme begun last year that is aimed at securing carbon over a vast area of Irish peatlands by reviving their natural ability to capture carbon dioxide – to help tackle carbon emissions.
The scheme is supported by €108 million of Government and European funding and €18 million from Bord na Móna itself, which is using a range of enhanced rehabilitation measures to transform extensive areas of peatland across the midlands.
The total amount of peatlands that have now been rehabilitated and restored by Bord na Móna is more than 25,000 hectares – an area equivalent to about 19,600 GAA pitches that if put end-to-end would stretch from Dublin to Moscow, a distance of more than 2,800km.
This growing area “is creating a rich mosaic of biodiverse peatlands, incorporating important carbon sinks and stores”, Bord na Móna said.
These restored and rehabilitated bogs are increasing biodiversity and providing new habitats for thousands of native plant and animal species, it added. “The return of nesting cranes to a Bord na Móna peatland after 300 years shows the enormous future potential for nature to renew and restore itself.”
World Wetlands Day
Bord na Móna chief executive Tom Donnellan said it was marking World Wetlands Day on Wednesday by announcing "an extraordinary 5,200 hectares of peatlands were rehabilitated in 2021".
“All our engineering, ecological and hydrological initiatives are aimed at harnessing the power of the peatlands to deliver major climate wins. Managed rewetting of these lands [under the scheme] will secure over 100 million tonnes of carbon in the ground,” he added.
There are almost 300 people employed in peatland rehabilitation and associated operations in Bord na Móna, with many new roles in this regard taken up by people previously employed in extraction and transport of mostly peat-based fossil fuels, Mr Donnellan confirmed.
The company has also recruited engineers, ecologists, and surveyors to deliver in the design and implementation of the Peatlands Climate Action Scheme.
Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan commended Bord na Móna for having already rehabilitated and restored over 25,000 hectares of peatlands.
He added: “This is a significant win for climate action. It shows what can be achieved, with targeted effort, in a short space of time. It’s important that we recognise the work being done by the team in Bord na Móna, including many former peat workers, who are now transforming dry peatlands into new wetlands. This, in turn, is creating a substantial carbon store, as well as habitats that are teeming with life and biodiversity.”
Rehabilitation operations for 2021 were focused on 18 bogs, with the lion's share in Co Offaly and east Co Galway. The county-by-county breakdown for peatlands rehabilitated in 2021 shows: Offaly, 2,519 hectares; Galway, 1,563ha; Longford, 634ha; Roscommon, 354ha; and Kildare, 126ha. This work is administered by the National Parks & Wildlife Service with oversight and monitoring by the EPA.
The new scheme is one of the largest in Europe and is of international importance because of its scale – although overall land use in Ireland continues to be a significant net source of nearly 5 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Grassland on drained organic soils and degraded bogs together emit about 10 million tonnes of carbon, about the same amount as the power sector, each year.
The peatlands scheme uses a range of engineering and ecological interventions to carefully rewet peat and encourage processes that will secure and capture carbon. Ultimately, it is projected to rehabilitate more than 30,000 hectares, with the aim of benefiting communities across Ireland by helping to reduce emissions, improve water quality and enhance the local environment.