Local communities critical to restoring Ireland’s vast peatlands, academic says

World Wetlands Day highlights urgent need to restore vital ecoystems that store carbon

The importance of local community action in helping to restore and rewet vast areas of damaged peatlands has been highlighted by academic Dr Benjamin Gearey of University College Cork (UCC).

Rapid loss of peatlands has occurred over decades but efforts to conserve and restore them were achieving success, as was happening with Clara Bog in Co Offaly, said Dr Gearey, who is based at UCC department of archaeology.

“Around one-fifth of the land area of Ireland is peatland, large swathes of which have been damaged by centuries of drainage and extraction,” Dr Gearey said.

“On World Wetlands Day (WWD), we celebrate the work of local community groups who are striving to reverse this trend, and to restore the ecological and cultural functions of peatlands.”


Wetlands including bogs, salt marshes, swamps and wet woodlands, have been destroyed and damaged by millenniums of human activity and are further threatened by climate change, he added.

Globally, peatlands store two to three times more carbon than the world’s woodlands combined and are vital for climate change mitigation, Dr Gearey said. The biodiversity of wetlands in Ireland has been estimated to be worth €385 million per year to the economy.

UCC has created a video funded by the Irish Research Council’s COALESCE scheme outlining how it is working alongside the local community living in the vicinity of Clara Bog to protect and promote the environmental and cultural values of peatlands for future generations.

Irish peatlands also preserve a unique archaeological record, such as bog bodies and hundreds of prehistoric trackways, many of which have been lost through peat extraction, Dr Gearey said.

To coincide with WWD, Minister of State with Responsibility for Land use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett, visited the Ballinacarrig Farm owned by Joe Roche of Ballymoney, Co Wexford. Mr Roche, a dairy farmer, is taking part in an enhancing biodiversity project in the Ballymoney Stream Catchment (known as Ballymoney EIP), which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Almost 90 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests, noted Ms Hackett. “Yet, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, local communities and economies and more.”

WWD was important in raising national awareness about wetlands “so we can encourage actions to reverse the loss of our wetlands, and to conserve and restore them”, she said.

Mr Roche has constructed a pond to slow the flow of water entering a stream on his land. He also restored a previously drained wetland area, which the stream flows through and converted ryegrass to multispecies sward, as well as managing stock access to a highly-valuable wet woodland. The combination of measures, all carried out in one year, have significantly slowed the flow of water and boosted biodiversity.

As the stream leaves his farm it is at “good ecological status”. Further measures were taken on other partner lands before the stream enters Ballymoney beach.

“This demonstrates that it is possible to achieve improvements in water quality, contribute to carbon storage and enhance biodiversity at the same time supporting a productive dairy enterprise,” Ms Hackett said.

The Ballymoney EIP was a great example of “a local community, both farmers and non-farmers, working together to benefit the environment”, she said.

WWD is celebrated each year on February 2nd, the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, which was adopted as an international treaty in 1971.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times