A peatland restoration project across extensive upland bog and heathland is to be undertaken at the famous Luggala estate in the Wicklow mountains.
Luggala Estate Limited said it was "starting its response towards addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies" through the initiative, which would see 1,300 hectares of peatlands restored over several years.
The estate, owned for decades by the Guinness family, was sold in 2019 for an undisclosed sum – though less than the €28 million asking price – to the London-based Count Luca Rinaldo Contardo Padulli di Vighignolo, an Italian property magnate.
The peatlands on Luggala are made up of blanket bog, wet heath and dry heath habitats. Peat harvested on Luggala provided fuel during the “emergency” in the second World War. Areas mainly close to the upland roads were drained for peat extraction, removing surface vegetation in the process.
There was extensive drainage of peatlands in subsequent decades, linked to an effort to improve grazing or to prepare land for forestry. This has significantly affected the hydrology and integrity of the peatlands in those areas, with the habitats drying out. The added pressure of grazing by deer and sheep also dramatically affected its condition from a habitats perspective.
"This is an ambitious project that will take many years to complete. We will start with detailed ecological and hydrological studies, then focus on a target of restoring 150 hectares of blanket bog and improve heathland management on a further 150 hectares of wet and dry heath," said Anthony Blanchfield, environment manager at Luggala.
“We know the important role bogs play in carbon sequestration and by rewetting and restoring the peatland habitats on Luggala we can make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and make a response to biodiversity loss,” he said.
The Luggala Estate extends to more than 1,800 hectares and is one of Ireland’s most spectacular upland landscapes, making it a very popular hill-walking location. It is designated an EU Natura 2000 habitat as well as a special area of conservation (SAC) and special protection area (SPA).
It is located in a “blue dot” high water quality catchment area, as designated under the EU Water Framework Directive.
“The peatlands are core to the estate’s high water quality status. Rewetting the bog will contribute to reducing high flood levels downstream, said Mr Blanchfield.
He noted “preliminary ecological findings identified drainage and grazing levels as the primary problems and causing the habitats to be in poor condition. Our ecologist found little evidence of sphagnum moss present on the bog, and this is so important as the building block of peatland health.”
In the course of a year-long environmental investigation – in which Count Padulli di Vighignolo is understood to have taken an active interest – the ecosystem was found to be in much poorer condition than anticipated, “and we recognised the need to move quickly and decisively to establish the peatland as a carbon sink and to restore its ecology”, Mr Blanchfield said.
He said they hoped to begin the peatland restoration programme this year with a range of studies, testing and planning, and look forward to seeing progress quickly.
"Ireland has a particular expertise in the restoration of bogs, and we look forward to learning from the experiences of others and working closely with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and others as we undertake this work."
On the question of access for walkers, a spokeswoman for Luggala Estate said it was “open to responsible walkers and in line with Covid-19 guidelines”.
On its website walkers are requested to email contact details in advance of any planned walk, and to access the estate at weekends via the "kissing gate".
Hill-walkers have expressed concern about restrictions since the new owners took over the estate, amid fears that some traditionally enjoyed walking routes through the property would be closed off.
The owners point out it is a working estate “so there may be times that access to the estate is restricted. This means that planned walks may not be accommodated”.
Filming of the television series Vikings and farming have been cited in the past as reasons for restricting access.