For Abbeyleix Bog, and the surrounding community, it is an important week.
Restoration works began on Monday (Oct 3rd), involving the construction of marginal berms along the edge of the cutover bog in Abbeyleix, County Laois. Berms act like a dam, keeping water on the bog. This will help to enhance the re-establishing of Sphagnum Moss on the bog. In a simple way of putting it, by nurturing nature, this will help our climate, because the solutions are already there in the environment.
Abbeyleix Bog encompasses an area of almost 500 acres of diverse habitats including degraded (but recovering) raised bog. It is the first time a community-led project has been afforded money on this scale to manage a project of this nature. 75,000 euro has been awarded to enhance 40 hectares of restoration works on cutaway or cutover bog under the Peatlands Community Engagement Scheme. The goal is to bring back the Spaghnum Moss.
Chris Uys from the Abbeyleix Bog Project, who was there for the arrival of the diggers, talks about the ‘magic’ of Spaghnum Moss. He calls it the ‘building blocks of peat’. The moss is made up of a collection of hollow cells that capture water (it can hold 25 times it’s own weight) and, like a sponge, has the ability to retain water and release it slowly. Jim Ryan, is also there to witness the diggers moving in. He is part of the 40 members that make up the Abbeyleix Bog project.
Back in 2007, Jim Ryan, a wetlands scientist from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, dismissed Abbeyleix as a “crap bog” when he saw the pictures and maps. That all changed when he came to visit the bog and saw the margins.
He laughs aloud when he says “Abbeyleix is now top of our restoration class. And it wouldn’t be here today, either the high bog or the margins, if the local people hadn’t stopped Bord na Mona from cutting it away.” In 2000, the community (with the help of machinery) protested and won. The story is regarded as a superb example of community participation and grassroots volunteerism. In a remarkable turnaround, Bord na Mona agreed to help the Abbeyleix Bog Committee restore the bog, with the collaboration of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Bord na Mona provided the equipment and the Minister allocated funding for the project to do the initial ‘high bog’ drain blocking work. They have so far recovered 13.5% of the bog, the initial thought was that they would only get 5%. Jim says; “Even if we don’t get another square inch of bog vegetation, by raising the water table in the dried out marginal areas, we’ll be reducing the loss of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s a reason in itself to do it, without even talking about ecology”
The community of Abbeyleix and beyond have remained custodians of the bog for the last 22 years. Jim, now retired, is part of the Technical Group of Abbeyleix Bog and says
“it’s through this process of community involvement that you end up with something that everyone loves.”
He believes Abbeyleix Bog is an inspiring example of how projects like this can really work in tandem with nature. He says “It comes down to a love of the place, and the commitment to allow it to be the best place it can be” The Bog now includes a boardwalk for those who want to explore the area, and has become a place for people who want to walk their dogs, students who study biodiversity, and for those who use it as an amenity.
For Jim, “it’s about making it work for everyone. It’s a fabulous place”