From Islay to Ireland – a peatland learning event for ACT staff in the CANN project

Last week the team from CANN partners Argyl Coast and Countryside Trust (ACT) crossed the waters to visit peat bog restoration sites in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Due to Covid this was the first visit for some of the staff to any of the partner project sites and an opportunity to put real faces to names, email addresses and Zoom screens!

removing pine by hand

The first on the list of visits was a large blanket bog called Sliabh Beagh, spanning the border between north and south. The ACT team were met by Paul and Rory from Monaghan County Council, who walked their visitors up the hill, telling tales of local folklore (apparently Noah’s brother landed his own ark of animals nearby) and the group were honoured with a fleeting view of a hen harrier, the only one of the trip. Paul and Rory have been removing conifers that were drying out the bog and using peat dams, a system of ‘borrowing’ peat from nearby, to infill small sections of ditches to reduce drainage, all in efforts to return the bog to a wet, healthy habitat.

The next day the tour continued, this time teaming up with Simon from Ulster Wildlife to have a tour of their works at Peatlands Park, a country estate with an extensive trail system through a mosaic of gorgeous woodlands and raised bog habitats. There is a large network of drains throughout the site, so hydrological mapping was done using LiDAR (a type of laser scanning) to help plan where damming should take place. The team checked in on the range of peat and plastic dams, getting some very wet feet in the process (surely a good sign that the damming is working!) and compared notes on Islay’s efforts with rhododendron removal (something that has been a key deliverable on the island!). Ulster Wildlife are monitoring effects of the restoration

volunteers clearing rhodi seedlings

work using piezometers, an instrument inserted deep into the ground which measures the water table using data loggers.  Some of these are automatically taking measurements every 15 minutes! This gives an insight into how the water table changes throughout the year and after restoration; a nice wet bog for most of the year will be more resilient to the hotter, drier weather events predicted due to climate change.

The tour then took the team up to Cuilcagh mountain with Roisin, also from Ulster Wildlife. Here they have been using a variety of methods to block gullies that have been caused by water eroding the peat. Coir logs made of coconut fibres are dug into the base of the gullies, slowing water flow. Cut heather is spread over areas of exposed peat to stop it oxidizing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. They have even been trialing a new method of gully blocking, using wool from the very sheep that graze the mountain. The wool is used to create a bale which is then used to block gullies much

coir log in place

like the coir logs.

For the final two days of our trip ACT joined forces with a range of CANN staff as well as other outside projects interested in bogs. Again, more trips out onto bogs, but many of which are managed by community groups. One such was Abbeyleix bog which was saved from further peat extraction by its locals. They now manage the area and its diverse surrounding habitats, liaising with universities to carry out research and organising work groups for everything from boardwalk maintenance to habitat creation for marsh fritillaries. It was inspiring to witness the hard work and passion that has gone into managing the area for the benefit of the environment, but also for the enjoyment of the local community, all co-ordinated by volunteers.

meeting the volunteer team at Abbeyleix

All in all, it was a highly education trip and the ACT team has have come away brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to continue their work with bogs, back on our home peat of Islay and Argyll.

Have your say for Cuilcagh and Slieve Anierin

Looking over the summits of Cuilcagh, Slieve Anierin, Bencroy and Benbrack, across Knockacullion and the Playbank, few realise their habitats are rarer than tropical rainforest! These peaks represent two cross-border Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). The sites are designated for their internationally important blanket bog.

male hen harrierThis globally scarce habitat is home to iconic wildlife, such as red grouse, hen harrier and the Irish hare. Blanket bog is a vital carbon store, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the Earth’s forests combined! A healthy blanket bog is also essential for flood mitigation and maintaining good water quality. But all these benefits are lost when peatlands are damaged.

Through the CANN project, Ulster Wildlife has been writing a management plan for this area. The plan will identify threats to the SACs and what action is needed to keep these habitats in good ecological condition. To do this, we need the knowledge of landowners and site users. Your input at the latest online and in-person sessions is essential.

16th May 3-7pm Drop-in at St Patrick’s Hall Glangevlin

23rd May 4-8pm Drop-in  at  Commercial and Tourist Hotel Ballinamore

25th MAy 7-8.30pm Online session – register for free tickets at

30th May 4 – 8pm Drop-in at Mayflower Hall Drumshanbo

The LIFE IP, Wild Atlantic Nature project, will also be there to provide information on their project, how it relates to the CANN management plan and how it can help local Cuilcagh–Anierin SAC farmers prepare for forthcoming changes to CAP.

People unable to attend one of the drop-ins or the online session are invited to fill in a quick online questionnaire so they can still have their say please go to: , the survey will take 5 minutes to complete

Celebration of Conservation Successes at Lough Arrow

A fascinated audience of anglers, conservationists and academics met on the shores of Lough Arrow,  recently and in the sunshine between hail flurries celebrated the conservation successes on Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo and learned about future plans for the site. The event showcased the work of the newly incorporated Atlantic Technological University (formerly IT Sligo) in an innovative trial of techniques to control and prevent the further spread of the alien invasive plant Elodea Nuttallii (Nuttal’s pondweed). This weed has been having devastating effects on the unique biodiversity of stoneworts on the lake and the brown trout fishery that depends on them.

The event included a practical demonstration from Dr Joe Caffrey of INVAS Biosecurity of how the invasive weed is ideally evolved to spread within the lake and how easy it is for fragments of the plant to infect neighbouring water bodies through the equipment and boats of lake users.

Dr Joe Caffrey, INVAS with Nuttalls pondweed

Although it may be that the weed can never be eradicated due to practicalities and cost, the idea of using jute matting to suppress the weed in biosecure channels has long term potential. This means that people can safely access the deep weed-free waters to fish, swim, and boat without breaking weeds, preventing spread within or out of the Lough.

Scientists from The Atlantic Technological University were pleased to announce that the Nuttall’s weed has been entirely suppressed under the matting and, even more importantly, the charophytes or stoneworts that are such an essential part of the lifecycles of the lake are successfully growing through the jute.

An announcement was also made at the event that the Lough is due to be central within the next stage of the River Basin Management Plans, and so work and research will continue on the Lough, carrying CANN’s legacy into the future.

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