Active raised bogs once covered over 310 000 ha of the Irish midlands. Turf extraction and peat harvesting on an industrial scale has, however, stripped much of this away, to the extent that only 1% of the original active raised bog remains. To ensure their protection, 53 raised bog sites were designated as Natura 2000 sites in the late 1990s. Through the EU LIFE Living Bog project, the Irish Government’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht have begun restoring 12 raised bogs across seven counties. It is the largest restoration effort of its kind to date and will lead to improvement of 8 000 ha of raised bog, thanks to the blocking of over 200 km of deep drainage channels.
Until now, any attempts to protect and restore raised bogs have been met with strong resistance. Peat cutting for fuel is very much part of Ireland’s social history and traditions. As a result, the Living Bog project decided to engage fully with local communities from the very start and secure their co-operation, in order to foster a greater national understanding of the importance of Ireland’s raised bogs through a variety of outreach and public awareness activities.
Contacts were made with all those living and working around the targeted bogs. This led to the establishment of local committees who, it was hoped, would drive the project forward locally. An active programme of community events, from walks and talks to children’s nature camps saw the project establish a foothold in local communities. This was further supported by an intensive social media campaign and web promotional work. A major schools outreach project was also launched. Over 200 schools were involved and children were encouraged to learn more about peatlands and bogs and espouse the benefits of restoration at home and socially.
In the meantime, new members have joined the community groups, and plans are being put forward to develop amenities around the restored bogs in order to generate a socio-economic spin-off for local communities as a result of the project. Five such amenities have been constructed so far at five sites with the local community and local authorities.