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Peatland Habitats

Nature is tenacious – when peat production stops, nature is quick to move back in

There are many different types of habitats which attract many different types of flora and fauna. All of which are quick to establish themselves on cutaway bog. Cutaway bog emerges from large peat production complexes on a piecemeal basis and until such time as an extensive area of cutaway can be isolated from production use, natural colonisation generally proceeds and results in stabilisation of the bare peat surface by species such as rushes and sedges.

The natural colonisation process generally begins within the first year that an area is taken out of production and as time progresses the vegetation trend is from pioneer species to more complex poor fen or grassland communities, and wetland/scrub mosaics according to the local hydrology.

Habitats on Cutaway Bog

The ecology survey has shown that 25+ plant communities have been recorded on the cutaway bog areas to date and as many communities are recorded on the fringe areas surrounding the Bord na Móna bogs. The former bare peat fields are thereby stabilised environmentally with the added benefit of spontaneous re-establishment of extensive areas of biodiversity.

Some of the habitats that can be seen across the cutaway bogs are:

Bare Peat

  • This is the main ‘habitat’ that is present immediately post-peat production and includes active peat production areas
  • As outlined below, this phase is generally short-lived as natural processes of regeneration take over within a relatively rapid space of time

Pioneer Vegetation

  • This largely comprises sedges, reeds, rushes and/or grassland species depending on pH, peat depth and drainage
  • The pioneer colonisation phase usually comprises mono-dominant species stands which have shown to develop more complex vegetation within a 5–10 year time-frame given no active management or disturbance

Open Water

  • This is a common feature resulting where drainage within a production area breaks down whether naturally or by creation of dams/bunds or drain blocking
  • Open water is generally slower to colonise and the main species are emergent aquatics such as Common Reed (Phragmites australis) and Bulrush (Typha latifolia) at the edges of open water that may spread throughout the area over time
  • This open water and emergent vegetation is probably very similar to the vegetation that was present after the last ice-age 10,000 years ago when there were extensive lakes across the Irish Midlands that would form the basins within which the great bogs would develop

Poor Fen

  • This is a very common habitat throughout the cutaway bogs and generally forms the intermittent phase between pioneer and more complex vegetation mosaics
  • The main species are Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and Bog Cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium), usually with a relatively species-poor ground layer
  • Where these areas become wetter either through drain blocking or natural rewetting, more complex wetland communities form
  • Where they remain relatively dry, Birch (Betula pubescens) scrub emerges usually leading to a more closed Birch woodland community

Rich Fen

  • This is relatively less frequent in occurrence and develops where there are mineral rich springs present with a bog such as at Oughter bog and patches of Clongawney Bog, both part of the Boora complex in Offaly
  • The species present are Black Bog Rush (Schoenus nigricans) and Saw Sedge (Cladium mariscus) with a ground layer of brown mosses

Reed-Bed and Tall-Herb Swamps

  • These are generally associated with drainage ditches and open water. In some places they may form dense stands but they are generally sparsely growing within a complex of other habitat types
  • In areas where the bogs are artificially drained, particularly along the River Suck and River Shannon, there will be a greater potential for reed-bed establishment in the future
  • Again, this habitat is likely to be common along the Shannon and Suck pumped bogs

Birch Scrub

  • This is one of the more common habitats and will vary depending on local drainage and soils
  • Generally where a bog is gravity drained, Birch woodland establishes
  • These areas become colonised with pines such as Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) and to a lesser extent Yew (Taxus baccata), and native broadleaf species such as Willow (Salix spp.), Oak (Quercus spp.) and Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

Embryonic Peatland Communities

  • Commercial peat production involves almost complete removal of peat, often exposing underlying alkaline sub-soils
  • In most instances to date on the Midlands cutaway bogs the high pH prohibits restoration of conditions for peat-forming Sphagnum species
  • However, conditions are appropriate on the cutaway Atlantic blanket bogs in Mayo and this has led to spontaneous establishment of peat-forming vegetation on the cutaway following targeted rehabilitation to restore suitable water table for typical bog species including Sundews (Drosera spp.), and Bladderwort (Utricularia spp.) in pools and waterlogged drains

Dry Heathland

  • This habitat generally establishes in close proximity to grassland areas on shallow peat
  • The vegetation is largely dominated by Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris) with a ground layer of typical heathland mosses

Fringe Areas

  • The baseline ecology survey includes fringe areas that were never part of the active peat production area, and a number of habitats of value have been recorded in these areas including: remnants of more extensive former bog areas (bog remnants); marginal cutover bog areas with a mosaic of micro-habitats such as Birch woodland, heathland and grassland; riparian zones and scrub lined track-ways and boundaries

Wildlife Corridors

  • In general there are connecting corridors between most of the bog areas via track-ways, railway lines and riparian zones
  • These potential ‘biodiversity highways’ provide a valuable link for flora and fauna to move between areas and also provide a connection to habitats within and/or beyond the Bord na Móna bogs
  • Good examples are use of the riparian zones and cutaway bogs by Otter and probably a number of Bat species who forage along riparian and scrub corridors, making the most of the ecological network of sites that facilitates wider ranges and space for foraging, breeding and protection