The Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity has organised a series of seminars (webinars) “to hear from the experts on what is causing biodiversity loss, what is being done to address the crisis and what we can do as individuals and communities to get more involved.” This webinar on biodiversity was presented by Nuala Madigan, the CEO of the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council and she is based at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre in County Kildare.
The Irish Peatlands Conservation Council is an Irish charity founded in 1982 to ensure Irish pealands are preserved and enjoyed by future generations. Their work aims at research, preservation and awareness, and, more specifically, their Save the Bogs campaign informs their peatland conservation action plans.
What Are Peatlands (Boglands)?
Boglands or peatlands are wetlands formed thousands of years ago in Ireland made of 90% water and 10% decaying plants covering more than a million hectares making 20% of the total landscape. Their environment is acidic and prevents the natural decomposers like bacteria and fungi making them a poor nutrition soil while storing carbon from the atmosphere. Peat-forming sphagnum moss grows 1mm per year storing 10 times its weight in water.
Wetlands are habitats to different species.
The main types of bogs in Ireland are raised bogs, mostly in the Midlands and Northern Ireland, and blanket bogs, typically in mountainous areas, mostly in Western areas of Ireland as well as in Wicklow. There are also fens which are drier landscapes and alcolyine in nature, for example you can find one in Pollardstown, County Kildare.
Peatlands can be found in about 180 countries around the world, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that people get from visiting peatlands on a recreation basis as they provide a diverse habitat for several species as well as provide water regulation to prevent flooding and water storage.
64% of organic carbon is stored within peatlands in Ireland, making them a natural solution to the current climate emergency.
Traditionally peat extracted from boglands has been used for heating and for germinating seeds.
Importance of Peatlands for Biodiversity
There are about 30 types of sphagnum moss in Ireland, growing in an interlocking structure that makes them excellent for storing water.
Lychens have symbiotic relationship with algae and fungi, swapping nutrients.
Many native insect-eating plants are also present in wetlands such as sundew and bladderwort.
There are also Nitrogen-fixing plants converting nitrogen in the air into absorbable nitrogen for other plants.
Heathers are prevalent in boglands and are an important source of nectar. They can photosynthesise all year round and, being dry, they don’t freeze in winter.
15% of Irish flora are peatland plants.
Some examples of fauna comprise:
- butterflies, which are important biological indicators of our environmental quality
- curlews, while not specific to boglands, migrate to the coast during winter and come inland to boglands during summertime; its population has decreased by 98% in the past 40 years
- heather hen
- hare, which have adapted to live in the boglands, they nest and shelter in heathers
- dragonflies, they can catch their prey in flight
- emperor moths, they trick predators with their giant eye pattern
Of course there are many more animals and insects that have adapted to this acidic and open environment.
14% of all birds in Ireland, totalling 59 species, inhabit peatlands and 26% of mammals depend on peatlands. Remarkably, 65% of butterflies in Ireland are found on boglands.
Assessing the Status of Biodiversity in Ireland and Getting Involved
So far only 10% of the conservation status of Irish biodiversity has been assessed.
Human activity such as peat extraction to make briquettes for heating has had an impact on the natural structure of the habitat, in fact 75% of wetlands have been depleted through mining and draining. These activities lower the water table, they lower the oxygen levels and encourage decomposition of plant material.
According to the EU directive on the status of habitats, the status of Irish boglands is classified as bad. If our habitats are unhealthy this will have a negative effect on biodiversity. However, it’s not too late to stop biodiversity loss. Ireland still hasn’t designated peatland sites formally.
Restoration work can contribute to rebuild the habitat of peatlands and other areas in Ireland to preserve biodiversity. This requires engagement with landowners and it’s a large-scale national scheme across multiple government departments including Agriculture, Energy and Transport.
Raising awareness is an important component of preservation, especially as the new generations will benefit from learning about their natural heritage.
Yearly assessments are completed in June and run for six weeks and Citizen Scientists are welcome to join. Please visit the Irish conservation website ipcc.ie for more information.