While the habitats recorded to date on the Bord na Móna bogs are to a greater or lesser extent comprised of relatively common species, there are a number of species of high conservation value that are using the cutaway bogs. These include species listed on Annex II of the European Union Habitats Directive (e.g. Otter (Lutra lutra) and Marsh Fritillary Butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia) and Annex I of the EU Birds Directive (e.g. Golden Plover, and Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
The Bord na Móna bogs have been established as ideal refuges for a range of animals, both common and rarer species such as Marsh Fritillary and Red Squirrel. As further data becomes available through the Bord na Móna ecology survey and surveys carried out by others such as BirdWatch Ireland on behalf of Bord na Móna, a wider picture of species diversity will emerge over the range of the Bord na Móna bogs.
A number of mammal species are recorded on the cutaway bogs including commoner species such as Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Badger (Meles meles), Hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus), Rabbit (Oryctolagus cunniculus), rodent species including Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus), and non-native species such as Fallow Deer (Dama dama) and Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Less common are Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Otter and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). Pine Marten (Martes martes) tracks are relatively common throughout the bogs surveyed to date.
Woodlands, scrub, hedgerows, treelines, sheltered water bodies and watercourses of the Bord na Móna bogs are ideal habitats for Bat species. Those already recorded from the cutaway bogs include Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Soprano Pipistrelle (P. pygmaeus pipistrelle) and Leisler’s Bat (Nyctalus leisleri). Other species can be expected to occur occasionally including Daubenton’s (Myotis daubentonii), Natterer’s (M. nattereri), Whiskered/Brandt’s (M. mystacinus/M. brandtii), Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus) and Lesser Horseshoe Bats (Rhinolophus hipposideros). The tenth known Irish bat species; Nathusius’ Pipistrelle (P. nathusii) may also occur near larger water bodies if woodland is adjacent.
Red Squirrels are declining nationally due mainly to the spread of the Grey Squirrel. Commonly found in woodlands, including commercial conifer plantations – there have been records of Red Squirrel at the Lough Boora site in County Offaly.
Otter is a protected species under European Union legislation mainly because numbers have declined sharply in other parts of Europe. The Irish population is therefore particularly important. Otters depend on healthy fish populations and the presence of suitable vegetation cover along the riverbank in which they make their burrows or ‘holts’. The Bord na Móna bogs are very suitable for Otter as the wetland mosaic provides suitable feeding areas, particularly where there are streams and rivers inter-connecting between sites.
Red Deer have been recorded at the Oweninny bogs in Mayo; probably introduced to North West Mayo in the late 1990s for hunting. They are now widespread throughout the wider area.
Marsh Fritillary Butterfly – there are two sites in Kildare that are host to Marsh Fritillary. The Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) manage a site in Lullymore the ownership of which was transferred by Bord na Móna in 2005.
There is a further site nearby at Lullybeg, Lullymore which is managed by Butterfly Conservation Ireland. This cutaway bog area covers a relatively small area (approx. 8ha) and boasts an impressive insect fauna with rare butterflies and moths.
Pride of place is the rare and increasingly endangered Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. This beautiful butterfly has a chequered wing pattern resembling a stained glass window and feeds on Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) which is abundant at Lullybeg. The Marsh Fritillary maintains a healthy and expanding population on the Lullybeg site but elsewhere in Ireland it is in danger of extinction, as in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decline is linked to loss of suitable habitat.
The Lullybeg site is managed by members of Butterfly Conservation Ireland who employ a number of targeted management practices such as scrub removal and managed grazing by cattle to maintain suitable habitat conditions for the breeding butterflies.
Grey Partridge – the cutaway bogs are proving to be very valuable areas for a range of bird species. The most documented is the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) project at Lough Boora, where the numbers of birds have increased from 26 to 436 through a successful and intensive management programme undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service with assistance from Bord na Móna over the last ten years. Find out more about the Grey Partridge.
Whooper Swan – the cutaway bogs have also been highlighted by BirdWatch Ireland as some of the top sites in the Midlands to view birds. In winter months the main attractions to the bogs are Whooper Swans, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Survey records by BirdWatch Ireland for winter 2009 show Whooper Swan was probably the most important species (both on a national and international level) recorded using the cutaway bog, with an estimated 245 individuals using the larger Boora area. Numbers recorded in 2010 exceeded 900 for Whooper Swans using the Bord na Móna East Galway bogs along the River Shannon.
Breeding waders – large numbers of Golden Plover (up to 2,000) and Lapwing (up to 717) have been recorded in BirdWatch Ireland annual surveys at Boora, along with six species of duck, a further five species of wader and other water-birds such as grebes and rails. This surveys also recorded many wetland birds, with Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) particularly widespread.
Many of these species are of conservation concern, highlighting the importance of wetlands present on the cutaways to threatened birds. The number of breeding waders on the cutaway bogs recorded in 2009 further emphasises their importance for this group of species, all of which are of conservation concern in Ireland due to loss of suitable breeding habitat. The open landscape and wetland areas are considered to be particularly important for the success of wader species.
While the habitats of the cutaway bogs are largely dominated by relatively common Irish plant species, there are some rare species or species with restricted distribution finding the cutaway bogs a suitable habitat to expand their populations.
A wider survey is likely to reveal more species but some of the known species are Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia) and Blue Fleabane (Erigeron acer). The more common species do however create great spectacles at different times of the year – Bog Cotton (Eriophorum spp.) is abundant on the cutaways in May and its white fluffy seedheads can create an entirely new landscape while in full bloom across the Midlands, while there is a fantastic display of orchids to be seen at Finnamores and Lough Boora in April and May.
One of the more lovely species is Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) but there are also more abundant Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza spp) and Butterfly Orchid (Plathanthera bifolia). Similarly, Heather (Calluna vulgaris) in September is so abundant on bog remnants as to turn the bog purple. It is an evocative display as it heralds the turning of the year.