The bog holds an astounding estimated 6 million tonnes of carbon, so it is crucial for mitigating climate change, and provides water to 14,000 households. It's also a rich habitat, hosting some of our rarest plants including marsh saxifrage, and our work will help red-listed species such as curlews, hen harriers and red grouse. Looking after peat bogs is essential, and we can't do it alone. For starters, the bog itself is unsafe, so expert guidance is needed to traverse it. We also ensure that the community is engaged, feel a sense of ownership, and are involved as much as they want to be.
We partner with lots of conservation organisations such as the Irish Peatlands conservation Council (www.ipcc.ie) and Global Peatlands Initiative (www.globalpeatlands.org) to share expertise, information, ideas, and opportunities for people to help conserve peatlands. Crucially, partnerships between local communities and farmers also build trust between communities and our organisations. Citizen science can also play an important part in restoring and preserving peatland and all the users of the site, including farmers, walkers and volunteers are being encouraged to participate in recording and sharing their sightings.
Collaboration is key, particularly as the site is mainly privately owned. As well as local farmers and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, we work with six partners as part of Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) Project, so while it's locally based, the impact is much wider. CABB is enhancing habitats across Northern Ireland, Ireland and the west coast of Scotland. Together we enhance and restore the landscape, while educating local people about the environmental, historical and cultural importance of blanket bogs and supporting them to become actively involved in conservation.
Our wider work includes drain-blocking to re-wet the bog, so the rich organic content in the peat doesn't biodegrade to release greenhouse gases. We also promote improved conservation grazing with farmers, which allows the cover of sphagnum moss to regrow.
On a healthy bog, sphagnum forms a blanket over the peat which locks in carbon. It’s also an excellent habitat for much smaller wildlife, including the tiny insectivorous plant sundew, and viviparous lizard, Northern Ireland’s only native reptile.
Sphagnum provides water filtration, which has resulted in more sustainable water management and better drinking water for 140,000 households in the local area. In a major study, the economic benefits of restoration of the blanket bog have also clearly been shown to be significantly higher than the costs of restoring the bog, so from every point of view, for biodiversity, climate, people and the public purse, restoring and taking care of our peatlands is clearly the only sensible future.
by Gareth Bareham
Intact blanket bogs are incredibly important carbon stores and are excellent habitats for biodiversity – but can also provide crucial ecosystem services like water storage and filtration.
The Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) has requirements under its CABB “INTERREG VA” projects. They provide a publicity and marketing plan in line with best practice standards, which helps us to get the best out of stakeholder engagement. Our programme of stakeholder engagement, media and press releases, public events and reporting for Garron Plateau provides a good model for sensitively balancing the need for people to be actively engaged and informed about peatlands with the ecological needs of a site like this with wildlife vulnerable to damage or disturbance.
We encourage inclusion and active participation from all stakeholders with the mantra: ‘Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate’. We established a Stakeholder Engagement group to represent everyone, while recognising that people engage in different ways, e.g. we invite farmers to be in the group but also provide opportunities to build individual relationships with them on the ground. Clarity of message to stakeholders is essential to success – if we are unclear or perceived to be ‘imposing’ our own objectives, we risk alienating people and losing their support for the project.
We use positive examples of successes, including from other projects, to demonstrate the value of supporting and investing in the plan to all stakeholders and funders. This may include e.g. the financial support provided to farmers by Environmental Farming Scheme, the success achieved by NI Water and the CABB project already with water quality and the wider significant value provided by the ecosystem services provided by fully restored and functioning blanket bog.
- Species present. For example, the presence of some of the rare sphagnum species which are indicators of high-quality wet bog.
- Restoration & re-wetting of the bog. For example, height of the water table, Dissolved Organic Carbon content and turbidity.
- People engaged or educated about peat. For example, numbers of farmers in environmental schemes or numbers of people at events.