A key element of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, approved by the Government and published by my Department in December 2017, is to maintain active raised bog habitat and restore degraded raised bog habitat to active raised bog habitat.
The national restoration programme for Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas is contained within this Plan. It was intended to restore all designated raised bogs within 3 cycles, with the first cycle operating for the duration of the Management Plan.
Work on the restoration programme has already begun with a €5.4m project ‘The Living Bog’ which is funded under the EU LIFE 2014-2020 programme. The Department is managing this project and is contributing €1.352m, as well as ecological expertise, with the European Commission providing €4.056m.
The Living Bog project, which commenced in 2016 and will conclude at the end of 2020, aims to restore the favourable conservation condition and increase the area for active raised bog by 277 hectares on the 12 raised bog special area of conservation project sites in the Border-Midlands-West region. Restoration works have been completed to date on 6 LIFE project special area of conservation sites.
In tandem with the LIFE project, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department is undertaking restoration works on State owned lands within the designated raised bog network.
The raised bog designated sites restoration programme can now be accelerated due to the announcement in Budget 2020 of €5m for peatlands restoration. This funding will allow for restoration measures to be undertaken on approximately 1,800 hectares in 2020 on up to 9 raised bog designated sites across 7 counties and the installation of an Eddy Covariance Flux tower on a representative bog to directly observe the exchanges of gas, energy, and momentum between the ecosystem and the atmosphere. The flux tower will directly measure the carbon, water, and heat flows between plant communities and the atmosphere. A further 23 raised bog designated sites have been identified for restoration works over the next number of years under the programme.
My Department is part of a consortium with another Government Department, State bodies and other institutions which is considering submitting an EU LIFE programme application in 2020, part of which could include the restoration of a number of raised bogs.
It is also a partner in an Environmental Protection Agency funded project, led by Trinity College Dublin, that is seeking to quantify carbon emissions from raised bogs across a range of degradation conditions and has part-funded an Eddy Covariance Flux tower at Clara Bog Special Area of Conservation. The Department has also funded the installation of hydrometric stations to measure dissolved carbon in water at this site.
In addition, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department is co-funding a project on the vulnerability of peatland ecosystems to a changing climate and increases in the frequency and severity of droughts as part of the 2019 Environmental Protection Agency research calls, with a budget for the project of up to €300,000. This project is being led by Dublin City University.