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In Praise of Bogs

Bogs have traditionally – but unfairly – been viewed as wasteland.  In the last century they have been seen as areas to exploit only for their peat for fuel or for horticultural compost; marginal land only good for conifer plantations; land to be improved for ‘true’ agricultural benefit; and rubbish tips for old cars, machinery and general waste.

But such views misunderstand the importance of bogland – not only culturally, but also in terms of ecological services.  Bogs are massive stores of carbon from the atmosphere.  Once they are damaged or exploited, the carbon that is stored within them is released to the atmosphere to add further to climate change – the effects of which we are beginning to feel over recent years with more unsettled and erratic weather patterns.  Bogs are also part of the hydrological systems that even out flood risk to homes and property, by reducing peak run-off after heavy downpours – which we are experiencing more in recent years, again believed to be due to climate change due to increased carbon in the atmosphere.

Often the gain that is made from exploiting bogs is short-term, very local and marginal in comparison to the wide-ranging natural services provided by the intact bogs.  These benefits – the ecological services – are hard to enumerate in exact financial and social benefits – but they represent true benefits irrespective of immediate financial valuation.

Irrespective of monetary valuations of capitalist economic models, bogs have their own intrinsic value to us in terms of their aesthetic beauty that tourists to Ireland admire and wonder at.  They also form an important cultural link for us to the days of our parents and grandparents and beyond – when the bogs sustainably provided fuel for heat, some light grazing for stock and game for the pot.

Not much of our lowland bog remains today, however.  This iconic Irish habitat is in danger of being a folk memory in many places, as short-term gain for a few pounds or euro removes this resource from the face of the earth without thought for the coming generations.

Dr Catherine O’Connell, from the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, will be discussing the benefits our bogs to society at an Envision community talk on Thursday 13th June 2013 at An Carn, Maghera.  The following day, she will be taking workshops on Ballynahone Bog - a jewel in the crown of the local landscape, managed by Ulster Wildlife and the NI Environment Agency.  The workshop will demonstrate how to detect degradation in bogs by recognising the vegetation.  Dr O’Connell will also demonstrate a bog restoration technique for bog mosses as practiced in Canada.

Dr O’Connell’s talk, in association with the Envision community heritage project at An Carn, will commence at 7pm at An Carn, Maghera on Thursday 13th June.  The talk is FREE.  The workshop, also FREE, will take place on Friday 14th June 2013 from 10:00am until 3:30pm.  To book a place, please contact Pól Mac Cana at An Carn on 028-7954-9978 or

The project is a collaboration between Carntogher Community Association and The Friends of Ballynahone Bog, and it is based at An Carn, Tirkane, Maghera.  The project is kindly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, SWARD and the Landfill Tax (Ulster Wildlife Trust & Magherafelt District Council).

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