CANN – a celebration and a summary

CANN was a cross-border conservation project to improve peatland and wetland habitats for wildlife and for people.

This booklet celebrates and summarizes the achievements of the eleven partners in the CANN Project, between 2016 and 2022.

CANN, Collaborative Action for the Natura Network, was an INTERREG VA project, one of 60 programmes across the European Union designed to promote greater levels of cross-border co-operation. CANN worked across Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland, liaising closely with landowners and land managers to improve the condition of over 25,000ha of internationally important wildlife sites. All the sites involved are Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), designated by the European Union.

Eleven partner organisations worked together, carried out detailed ecological and hydrological research and prepared 26 Conservation Action Plans. They also undertook practical conservation actions
from these plans to improve the condition of peatland and wetland SACs. CANN delivered citizen science and outreach activities to local communities and schools, co-ordinated training for staff and volunteers and shared best practice. CANN achieved key EU biodiversity targets, safeguarding the sites
and ensuring their future.


Download a pdf copy here. Or for an easier reading experience have a look at this flipbook

Celebration of the Successes of Cross-border Project

A major cross-border ‘Collaborative Action for the Natura Network’, or ‘CANN’ was acclaimed recently at a celebration event held in Newry, Co Down, attracting an audience from far and wide.

The €9.4m project was funded by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme through the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) together with funding from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in Ireland and NatureScot in Scotland.

The CANN Project Closure Celebration, held at the Canal Court Hotel, is the culmination of 6 years’ work which has helped to restore natural habitats and protect endangered species across a range of project sites throughout Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland.

The celebration event featured a key note speech from Professor John Barry of Queen’s University, Belfast who spoke passionately about the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change and their close interlinkages.

Throughout the CANN project, a team of leading scientists, researchers, local authorities, and charities from a partnership of 11 organisations across the three regions have worked together to prevent this decline in peatland and wetland habitats. As a result, 26 Conservation Action Plans have been produced across the three project regions. The project is led by Newry Mourne and Down District Council and employs over 30 project staff.

The CANN Project Team has carried out direct conservation actions to improve the condition of these habitats, helping to protect vital species. It has worked with local people and communities to manage these unique landscapes and iconic species. The project focussed on seven protected habitats, along with seven priority species, including birds such as the hen harrier, golden plover and red grouse, insects such as the marsh fritillary butterfly, and freshwater species such as white-clawed crayfish.

Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots said:

I am delighted to celebrate the successful conclusion of the INTERREG VA funded CANN project and its vital work to restore important wetland and peatland habitats across Northern Ireland and beyond to support nature recovery and ecosystem restoration. Healthy, functioning ecosystems will be crucial in the fight against a rapidly changing climate

representatives from Irish and Northern Irish government departments Photo by Philip Magowan

I would like to congratulate the project partners on their preparation of conservation action plans and effective delivery of conservation action for habitat restoration and species conservation,

Through their partnership-led approach, CANN have developed a stakeholder focussed delivery model that will work towards meeting our ambitions biodiversity and climate targets. My department looks forward to continuing work with similar consortia to delivery nature recover and climate action in the future”.

Mr Malcolm Noonan TD, Minister of State for Housing, Local Government and Heritage welcomed the successful conclusion of the CANN Project. Commenting on the project, Mr Noonan said:

“I am delighted that the CANN project has illustrated that successful results for nature conservation can be delivered across borders. The applied research, survey work, mapping and concrete conservation measures undertaken by the project have added to our knowledge of peatlands and other wetland habitats and species, and have delivered improvements at important sites in Ireland. The development of a shared understanding and capacity-building amongst project partners and competent authorities during the project and into the future is very much welcomed.”

Congratulating the project on its success, Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the Special EU Programmes Body said:

Geographic borders can impede economic and social growth and in the same way hinder environmental exploration and preservation. This INTERREG VA project CANN, allows partners from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland to come together and produce real results through dedicated collaboration. The wildlife protected by this project roam much further than our man-made borders, and the EU is deeply committed to protection of the natural environment across the whole of Europe and this project is a great example of that commitment. The work done by CANN will have lasting affects for years to come and has significant potential of future collaboration locally and internationally.”

Councillor Michael Savage, Chairperson of Newry, Mourne & Down District Council, said:

“To be lead partner in such a prestigious and successful partnership as the CANN project has demonstrated the skills and flexibility of our local authority in this central role. I am proud to see the successes of this project bringing together diverse organisations including charities, academic institutions and government departments from across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Working together we can be stronger and more effective than if we work alone.”


Pop over to our YouTube channel to catch the partners as they speak about their 6 years of work on the CANN project Closing Celebration of the CANN Project – YouTube


A Streamscape for Schools on the Shores of Lough Arrow

Over 170 children from eight schools in communities surrounding Lough Arrow have taken part in a fabulous education programme recently to learn about the wonderful wildlife habitats of the shores and waters of the lake and the work carried out by scientists from the Atlantic Technological University at Sligo as part of CANN project.

The schools from Counties Sligo and Roscommon involved in the project were: Kilmactranny and Corrigeenroe National Schools from Boyle; Ardkeeran and Taunagh National Schools from Riverstown; Collooney and St Paul’s National Schools from Collooney; Cloghogue National School from Castlebaldwin, and Geevagh National School from Ballynashee.

The 4th and 5th classes from each school took an enthusiastic look at the Water Cycle and how the lough and the River Unshin play a part in the local catchment. They also discovered water’s importance to all living things, including themselves. The children investigated how they use water at home and how to avoid dirty water from polluting the environment. The most exciting part of the programme was a series of practical pond dipping and river sampling activities. These saw the children investigate the mini-beasts and bugs that live in their local lake.

As part of the programme, a lovely, fully illustrated booklet, “Streamscapes Lough Arrow- a gem in our midst”, was created and distributed to every family with a child participating in the programme. This booklet celebrates Lough Arrow and the people living in its catchment. It focuses on how people use the waters for clean drinking water, angling, farming and tourism and how they can look after it.

Launch of Streamscapes, Lough Arrow,

The Streamscapes book was launched by its authors from the Coomhoola Salmon Trust, representatives from the CANN project and the local LAWPRO officers at a lovely event held at the Old Schoolhouse Community Cafe in Ballinafad.


The booklet can be downloaded as a pdf at

Lough Arrow – A Gem in our Midst

A lovely booklet by the Coomhola Salmon Trust as part of the educational outreach programme at Lough Arrow. This book is designed to help families in the catchment of Lough Arrow to understand the factors that affect the quality of the water that local people rely on for drinking, angling, farming, recreation and tourism. A copy was given to every child in the eight schools that took part in the Streamscapes programme in September 2022 or you can down load a copy by clicking on the  link below.

Lough Arrow – a Gem in our Midst

Jute laying at Lough Arrow


Outline Interpretive Plan for Cuilcagh and Anierin

This outline interpretive plan was created as part of an interpretive project for Cuilcagh and Anierin. While it specifically looks at how the decisions were made about what interpretation was carried out at this particular site; it also features best practice advice for creating a full Interpretive Plan for an area or a site and hints and tips for getting the best interpretive writing for panels being erected by land managers elsewhere wanting to interpret their conservation actions or the species that make their homes on the site

front cover of interpretive plan

Open the pdf by clicking the link below

Outline interpretive plan

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.

No Noah’s Ark for White-clawed Crayfish

The CANN project has recently halted its plans to re-locate white-clawed crayfish populations within the network of lakes at Magheraveeley-Kilrooskey. Only one of the lakes (Horseshoe Lake) holds a crayfish population above the threshold for favourable status, but even this is on a declining trajectory. The threshold is measured as catch per unit effort (CPUE) and should be above one. At Horseshoe Lake, catches have been, on average, just above one craclose up of crayfish showing face, and clawsyfish per trap depending on season and surveys at Dummy’s Lough, the only other lake with a substantial population, typically return CPUEs at well below one.

Evidence over the last five years has found that future translocation of this species is not a feasible plan and indeed that a previous translocation attempt has failed. Between 2013 and 2015, an attempt was made to move crayfish from Horseshoe lake to Knockballymore; however, surveys have not found a single crayfish in the new site. In addition, the project has found invasive zebra mussels on the lough, which indicates connectivity with other water bodies meaning that crayfish plague may also have moved in and could have played a part in this failure. Angling activity could also have transferred Crayfish view across the lake with ermergent vegetationPlague. Anecdotal evidence shows that the angling stands attract anglers from far afield. It is almost impossible to control this access or behaviours that might transfer invasive alien plants and animals.

The cluster’s potential target lakes are also exposed to pollution transfers; Knockballymore, for example, is exposed to pollution transfers from the adjacent river. The CANN project has data from pesticide analysis that indicates pollution transfer from North to South, especially during flood events.

With populations so fragile, only waters with no connectivity to other lakes or rivers and no fishing stands can support good crayfish populations or become ark sites.

A further blow to the plans has been discovering that all the potential target lakes and even the donor sites are under pressure from nutrient enrichment. The lakes appear to have accumulated nutrients over decades. Their lower and colder layers of water (hypolimnia) tend to become anoxic or even anaerobic during summer’s thermal stratification. This stratification results in nutrient mobilisation from the lake sediments, enabling large seasonal algal blooms.

In short, we would advocate efforts to mitigate nutrient, pollution and potential pathogen transfer and mitigation of the internal nutrient loading before embarking on further crayfish translocation

The Hen Harrier – Ireland’s rhino, panda or elephant

The Hen Harrier, the Sky-Dancer, is one of the most enigmatic species that inhabit the mountains and moors across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The CANN project is working across all three jurisdictions to understand and manage some of the interconnected issues that face this and other species across peatland and moorland habitats.male hen harrier

The species faces many threats and pressures across the range in these jurisdictions leading to direct loss and displacement of hen harriers which are a vital component, indeed barometer, of a healthy upland ecosystem. The cry of the curlew and the drumming of snipe have also diminished or vanished across their former strongholds.

Five-yearly or ten-yearly surveys of the hen harrier have revealed ongoing declines and range contractions for many decades. Trends identified in national surveys forecast more decreases in the coming years.

The hen harrier in Northern Ireland, in 2016, numbered fewer than 50 pairs. Across the island of Ireland, there are fewer than 200 pairs. The reality is that the population has declined in each sequential survey over the last decades. Even within the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated as species strongholds, the population is declining rapidly. We should be able to do better. We should be able to support and conserve this species more. We MUST be able to do better.

The Sky Dancer is declining here; and surely brings a warning to us all. Globally, the rhinoceros, the gorilla, the elephant, the tiger, the polar bear, the blue whale, and the giant panda, are all threatened and endangered species. The hen harrier is our rhino, the hen harrier is our tiger, the hen harrier is our panda, the hen harrier is our elephant. We must seek to educate people and learn to protect this species and its habitats now, within our own lifetimes, so future generations can wonder at its acrobatics as we do. We can all do better.

There is a huge range of threats to this species and its habitats. The hazards this species faces on this island include land management issues such as over-grazing and land abandonment, wildfires, habitat fragmentation, livestock trampling of nests and turf cutting. Human recreation also puts intolerable pressures on these birds: disturbance at nest or roost site from car rallying, off-road motorbikes and vehicles and dogs being walked or trained off leads. Commercial forestry with its abundant fox populations causes increased nest and fledgling predation. Even the ostensibly “green” energy solution of wind farms can lead to collisions and displacement. And to top off this list of “accidental” problems, there is, of course, illegal persecution.

In Ireland, some of the declines could be the effects of illegal killing across the Irish Sea – being felt keenly here too, perhaps? There is lesser evidence of direct killing on our own shores, but the birds move so freely between the nations that undoubtedly the trends may be linked. While known persecution incidents are few on the Emerald Isle compared to Britain they do occur for sure. Shot hen harriers have been posted to newspaper offices, satellite-tagged hen harriers have been shot and left to rot on the ground, and nestling hen harriers have been clubbed to death.

As an integral part of the CANN project, the team has been working to understand the species’ complex spatial and temporal requirements at various sites across the project area. The CANN project implements localised management for this and other species across peatland habitats. Works have taken place to identify the occurrence of hen harriers and their usage of a range of lowland raised bogs across Northern Ireland and border counties of Ireland and on upland regions of Cuilcagh Mountain, Sliabh Beagh and on the Scottish Island of Islay.

Locally we see an extensive loss of natural moorland sites, no remaining deep heather for nesting, obliterated by successive fires. Habitat loss, habitat degradation, poor quality nesting and foraging habitats ravaged over the decades. Other neglected and affected species, including the red grouse, the curlew, the golden plover, the meadow pipit, the snipe, the skylark, are also facing perilous declines.

Over recent years, the seasonal hen harrier surveys by the CANN project have discovered previously unknown hen harrier roost and nest sites, the locations of which are not fixed. We have examined the foraging range of many of the individual pairs of harriers within the project sites and shown how and where foraging ranges extend far beyond the designated site boundaries. Tracking the movement of birds has revealed that some tracked from Scotland roost in lowland raised bogs on the border counties of Ireland. We are all connected.

The CANN project has worked on the restoration of drained and damaged bogs to restore the densities of snipe and meadow pipits and skylarks feeding on the invertebrates increasingly abundant in the pools and dams created through restoration. These actions provide a better source of food and prey for the quartering, low altitude hen harrier, the ghost of the moor.

The CANN project has worked on fire planning, and building landscape and community resilience in tackling the multiple effects of fires in destroying habitat and damaging carbon sinks held preciously within the bogs. These spring fires are often exacerbated by turf cutting at an industrial scale.  There remains a way to go in the protection of these carbon-sequestering habitats and the careful, cautious use of firebreaks will contribute to the restoration of a heterogeneous mosaic of habitats. A fire-resilient landscape with its mixed heights is optimised for the red-listed red grouse with its “go-back, go-back” call; the edge habitats created by the breaks are great for nesting meadow pipits and the linear features themselves are much favoured by the hunting harriers.

The CANN project has implemented nest protection measures to give Hen Harriers the best chances of fledging young. The current ecosystem, unbalanced by generations of landscape change and afforestation, has an unsustainably high number of predators like foxes, so these need management to help hen harriers fledge more young chicks.

The CANN project has worked to rid the bogs and moors of a plague of self-seeded conifers from adjacent plantations and cutting and removal of the brightly coloured but deadly invasive rhododendron. Removing these misplaced trees optimises the moors and restores the unique openness of habitats much favoured by the hen harrier.

The CANN project has begun restoration and aims to set directions through conservation action plans for long-lived restorative actions to follow. However, there is much remaining to do. Creating connectivity between and within habitats is vital. These habitats and species cross borders: Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland – all are interlinked.  In recent years, however, there has been cause for optimism. The change in local attitudes and pressures which drove some of the past negativity is refreshing. In addition, the new biodiversity funding routes and Results-Based Agri-Environment Payment Schemes (RBAPS), increasingly operating in Ireland and beyond, are building an inherent cultural and financial value to all biodiversity, including the hen harrier.

The hen harrier has not been doing well, and remains vulnerable without ongoing, long-term support and actions. We all need to do our part. We need to celebrate it, support its habitats, and find ways to support the landowners, land managers and farmers privileged to work and live within its landscape. Agri-environmental schemes that have payments linked to the performance and productivity of hen harriers (and other species or habitats), that create a value to the increased number of young fledge, are an excellent route forward. These schemes support high nature value farming at its finest, with the potential to protect, enshrine and value both the land managers and the bird itself. Imagine a world where we all appreciate the hen harrier like that – as an integral part of the landscape. For now, we remain optimistic that the current realities can be improved.

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