Give our special peatlands a chance

Ballynahone Bog Nature Reserve (c) Ben Hall 2020 Vision

Roisin Grimes, Peatland Officer at Ulster Wildlife, introduces the wonderful world of peatlands, and explains why these precious habitats are worth protecting, as we celebrate International Bog Day (28 July).

When you look out over a bog what do you see? A bleak or barren landscape? Look a little closer.

 

Wild wonders

These dramatic landscapes are alive with the magnificent colours, scents and sounds of the plants and animals that call these hostile environments home. See the pink and purple heather punctuated by bright yellow bog asphodel and white tufts of bog cotton, underlain by a multi-coloured carpet of bog mosses and crimson specks of the carnivorous sundews. Smell the fresh peaty air and fragrant bog myrtle. Hear the haunting call of the curlew, the drumming of snipe and the warbling song of the skylark as it rises high and quickly falls.

Ranging from expansive blanket bogs cloaking the uplands, to lowland raised bogs which had their origins as glacial lakes, peatlands are indeed wild and compelling places. Formed over millennia, their depths hold a record of our ancient past.

Carbon and flood champions

As well as providing sanctuary for some of the world’s rarest species, these habitats also deliver services, which are vital to our own survival. Peatlands store and filter water, with 70% of the UK’s drinking water coming from uplands covered in peat. Peat is up to 90% water and bog mosses can hold an astonishing 20 times their weight in water. These landscapes are important for reducing flood risk, with their rough surface vegetation slowing the flow of rainfall downstream.

When plants rot they release the carbon they contain back to the soil and air. However, the waterlogged and acidic conditions found in bogs mean that the dead plant material doesn’t readily decompose and is stored as peat – making bogs important carbon sinks. Peatlands cover just 3% of the world’s surface and yet hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined, illustrating their global significance in mitigating climate change.

Peatlands cover just 3% of the world’s surface and yet hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined, illustrating their global significance in mitigating climate change

 

For peat’s sake

Despite taking thousands of years to form, the last 100 years has seen a startling decline in our peatlands. Extraction for fuel and horticulture, drainage, overgrazing, wildfires, afforestation and pollution has resulted in the degradation or destruction of 80% of the UK’s peatlands.

In contrast to the rich habitat described above, damaged peatlands are a brown and broken landscape where the vegetation is stripped away to show eroding bare peat. Drainage channels, channels, a key driver of this decline, dry out our peatlands, which limits their ability to store carbon.

Everything our peatlands do for us is completely reversed when they are in this damaged state and every year that the problem isn’t fixed it gets harder to solve. In a time of a climate emergency, surely, we must ensure these iconic landscapes are working for us, not against us.

But, don’t fret; a number of innovative projects are underway to protect and restore our precious peatlands. Ulster Wildlife is a partner in CANN, an EU-Interreg project working to improve the condition of these important habitats across 25 sites in NI, ROI and Scotland. We also manage two peatland nature reserves: Ballynahone Bog, the second largest intact lowland raised bog in Northern Ireland teeming with specialist wildlife, and Inishargy Bog, a small but important wildlife haven on the Ards Peninsula.

The future is peat

However, the job is far from over. The task to restore all our peatlands is huge and we need as many people to help as possible. We ask you to join with us, be it swapping to peat-free compost in your garden or becoming a member of Ulster Wildlife, please do what you can to restore our precious peatlands.

After reading this we hope you have learnt to love this weird and wet habitat, and that you agree that a Wilder Future is not possible without restored peatlands at its heart.

If you’d like to discover one of these special places for yourself, why not join us on the 3rd August from 10am – 1pm at Marble Arch Caves to celebrate International Bog Day. Come meet our bog experts and learn about the wonderful wildlife and history of Cuilcagh Mountain. Registration is essential - email catherine.cunningham@nmandd.org.

Help protect our precious peatlands

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Ballynahone Bog Nature Reserve (c) Ben Hall 2020 Vision

Celebrate International Bog Day at Cuilcagh

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Cuilcagh Bog Day Celebration