Space for Nature
Our natural environment is increasingly coming under threat from many pressures, including land use changes, intensification of agriculture and climate change. Although nature can be resilient to some of the changes, the scale and number of them is taking a toll on our wildlife. The restoration or rehabilitation of Bord na Móna’s peatlands provides a wonderful opportunity to create space for nature to live and thrive, providing a nationally important refuge for many threatened species and habitats.
The primary objective of PCAS is climate action through optimising hydrological conditions that locks the carbon in residual peat in the ground and reduces emissions or create carbon sinks by developing appropriate vegetation cover. However, this will also bring other secondary benefits for biodiversity by increasing or creating new or further habitats for a range of species, some of which are rare or under pressure in the wider landscape. Other secondary effects will include improvement in the supporting habitat quality (water quality for instance) to benefit a range of water-dependant species.
Sphagnum mosses are key species of raised bogs and the majority of the peat-body is formed from these mosses to the extent that Sphagnum is often known as “the bog builder”. Sphagnum and other raised bog species are a key part of raised bog habitat function and prefer more acidic, nutrient poor, water-logged conditions. Research has shown that Sphagnum-rich vegetation can be a sink for greenhouse gasses. Rehabilitation of Bord na Móna’s bogs will seek to encourage the development of Sphagnum-rich habitats where possible.
The acidic and anoxic conditions of bog habitats inhibit the total decay of dead vegetation. As a result, these habitats are generally quite nutrient poor. To cope with the nutrient-poor conditions, many plant species that now inhabit Ireland's bogs have evolved a carnivorous strategy to supplement the low level of nutrients available from the peat. The strategies employed by carnivorous plants to capture prey have become very diverse over evolutionary time.
The Sundews use sticky secretions to lure in and hold prey in place before the leaf slowly closes around the prey. Similarly, the Butterworts create a pool of sticky liquid in an upturned basal leaf that traps and digests small invertebrate prey. By contrast, the Bladderworts have developed a complex trap door system of prey capture.
Sphagnum-rich vegetation and Common Snipe
One of the more frequently encountered species in this vegetation type is the Common Snipe Gallinago. This wader has a characteristic long beak for probing soft, wet soil for its invertebrate prey and they nest in tussocks of vegetation on the ground. It is known as the “Sky Goat” due to its characteristic drumming noise when displaying during the breeding season. Snipe like the wet soggy conditions and feed or roost in the long grass. While Snipe breed in suitable habitats in Ireland, many more Snipe come here in winter from northern and eastern Europe due to the milder climate.
Pioneer Rich fen vegetation
A fen is a wetland characterised by the ground-water being rich in calcium, with a pH around 6-8. These special conditions have given the rich fens a specialised flora, which is distinguished by its specialised mosses, known as “brown mosses.” Embryonic rich fen on Bord na Móna cutaway contains species like Black Bog-Rush, Schoenus nigricans and Marsh Orchids Dactylorhiza species. PCAS will look to optimise suitable hydrological conditions for the development of this habitat where these species can colonise naturally.
Poor fen develops where the ground-water or surface flow is more acidic. This habitat supports a dense carpet of mosses and sedges and can contain Sphagnum Mosses. Much of the wet vegetation developing across Bord na Móna’s cutaway peatlands following cessation of commercial peat harvesting is characterised as pioneer poor fen as it is made up of dense carpets of species like Bog cotton species (Eriophorum) and Soft Rush (Juncus Effusus). In time this vegetation will diversify into more typical fen, wet grassland habitats and bog woodland habitats. These are expected to be reduced carbon sources that have potential to become carbon sinks in certain conditions.
The proposed PCAS will ultimately accelerate the provision of increased ecosystem services and Natural Capital, benefiting not just species and habitats but also the broader environment.