The Irish Times view on bog restoration

Coming back to life

We long regarded bogs as ‘black deserts’, at best a source of heating fuel, and then, through the remarkable public enterprise and innovation of Bord na Móna, of desperately needed rural employment.

We long regarded bogs as ‘black deserts’, at best a source of heating fuel, and then, through the remarkable public enterprise and innovation of Bord na Móna, of desperately needed rural employment.

 

A happy shift has taken place in our perception of peatlands. We long regarded bogs as “black deserts”, at best a source of heating fuel, and then, through the remarkable public enterprise and innovation of Bord na Móna, of desperately needed rural employment.

But we have slowly realised that this industrial exploitation of bogs was unsustainable, stripping away the vegetation processes that create peatlands in the first place. Just as they were disappearing, we learned to love the beautiful plants, wildlife and landscapes that flourish in healthy bogs. We have also recently learned of the great power of fully functioning bogs to sequester carbon, countering climate change.

So it is welcome that the Government has allocated €15 million in the July stimulus package to “rehabilitate 33,000 hectares of Bord na Móna peatlands”. But it is vital that the Government fully observes two conditions, both acknowledged in its own programme. The “rehabilitation” must not be perfunctory, but should be informed by best science and practice to maximise biodiversity restoration and carbon sequestration. The other is that it should ensure that those losing jobs in the midlands as peat extraction ceases are retrained and redeployed in a “just transition”.

One outstanding example of bog restoration celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. The Abbeyleix Bog Project was born when the local community prevented Bord na Móna from extracting peat from a cherished recreational area near the town. After a long battle, they persuaded the board, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to restore the bog.

A new report shows that key ecological processes have recovered over almost three times the maximum area originally regarded as feasible, and are accelerating, as is carbon sequestration. Local people and visitors alike regularly enjoy walking the bog, where increasing numbers of rare species are returning.

Good news stories from the environment are themselves rare. The Abbeyleix project is a model for the widescale restoration now envisaged.

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