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 www.bit.ly/3s7jLcL

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: http://www.bit.ly/367Wgse , the survey will take 5 minutes to complete

Fire-fighting and Fire-prevention techniques demonstrated on Cuilcagh

On Thursday 14 October, The CANN project along with partner agencies and Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) held a wildfire awareness event for key site users and landowners to increase awareness of how wildfires can be prevented, and how NIFRS responds to wildfire incidents, with the aim of driving down wildfires in the Cuilcagh Anierin Mountain, and the rest of Northern Ireland.

In the last three years, NIFRS has attended 6,300 wildfires across Northern Ireland. Dealing with wildfires unnecessarily draws NIFRS resources away from where they are needed most, protecting our community.

In a bid to manage and respond to wildfires, NIFRS Enniskillen District has been working with The CANN Project along with the Pau Costa Foundation, PSNI and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council to develop a wildfire management and response plan for Cuilcagh Anierin Mountain, County Fermanagh.

 “Not only is there a huge environmental cost in terms of loss biodiversity and increased atmospheric carbon, but wildfires unnecessarily tie up fire services’ time and resources. Therefore, the purpose of this event was to show the multi-agency response and management of wildfires before, during and after incidents, and generate awareness of the impact of wildfires on habitats, species, carbon and farming in these upland areas,” said Podge McKeon, district commander NIFRS.

The CANN project’s focus is on preventing fires through changes in land management. In a hierarchy, the best solutions are re-wetting the peatlands and working with farmers to graze animals, next, ecologists would move to management of fuel load through cutting and lastly the use of prescribed burns. In this event, the safe use of slow, shallow, cool burns were demonstrated.

“Wildfire planning creates a really useful tool to help focus habitat management in places where small changes can have a big impact. The partnership approach demonstrated in events like this is vital for the long-term health of our peatlands. Over 60 people from both sides of the border attended this event and the links made will be invaluable in managing the land to prevent fire as well as fighting such fires as do occur”. said Simon Gray, Senior technical officer with CANN partners Ulster Wildlife

We’re Hiring! Get your applications in soon

Senior Technical Officer covering our work on Cuilcagh SAC and Cuilcagh and Anierin Uplands SAC
Salary: £28,009 to £29,525
Contract type: Fixed-term / Working hours: Full time
Location: Fermanagh House, Broadmeadow Place, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, BT74 7HR
Closing date: Monday 30 November 2020
The post holder will be responsible for:
· Assisting with development of conservation action plans for selected Natura sites, with a focus on Cuilcagh Mountain SAC and Cuilcagh and Anierin Uplands SAC.
· Coordinating on-ground restoration works to improve the conservation status of the site over the lifecycle of this project.
· The post holder will also assist with on-going monthly monitoring at raised bogs in west Tyrone.
The Senior Technical Officer should be educated to third level in an environmental-related subject and be experienced in ecological fieldwork. The post holder will have experience of working with landowners, farmers and local communities. The officer should also have experience of working within project teams, delivering outputs on time and within budget. The post holder will be proficient in Microsoft Office with good all-round communication and organisational skills including writing complex documents and action plans.

Film…Camera…Action

Since lockdown eased slightly, the work to create a video of the CANN project has been progressing. Before lockdown, we filmed some fabulous footage of the skilful digger drivers blocking old drains at Cranny Bogs. The diggers rest on huge wooden bog mats which weigh over a tonne each, these are moved by the machine operator as he progresses across the bog allowing the machines to continue work even when the bog is like a sea of jelly. To see these huge machines delicately moving peat from sacrificial pits to block the drains is quite amazing.  ASG, our video contractors, are getting used to the soggy feet of working on wetlands and now bring wellies as standard. They were thrilled to film a demonstration of our Robocut machine which, working by remote control can get into areas which are unsafe for a ride-on cutter (and cameramen!). The machine has been a huge hit with farmers wanting to find out how to manage their land better for biodiversity.

During the main part of lockdown, filming was postponed but as soon as it eased the cameras were back on the job using skilful drone work and pared-back crew to ensure social distancing and safe working practices. Their first date was in Peatlands park where volunteers from the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership were pulling scots pine seedlings out of the bog and cutting down young rhododendrons.

The team also got close up and personal with a licenced filming of young hen harriers at the nest on Sliabh Beagh and had a meeting with lovely traditional breed cattle on the mountain, these Dexter cattle act like mobile conservation rangers, they are light enough to not get bogged down and will eat the roughest of vegetation, they are also incredibly photogenic with their big dark eyes.

A trip out onto Lough Arrow was carefully carried out to avoid close contact with our scientists. Clever camera angles to mimic the camera being on the boat complete with drone footage demonstrated water sampling and the laying of jute carpets to control alien invasives and encourage native charophytes.

Jute laying at Lough Arrow

Laden with gear, the team climbed to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain and were able to film the delicate work of restoring the unique boreal and subalpine heathland on the peak. This habitat has sadly been a victim of its own popularity being eroded away by the thousands of visitors climbing the boardwalk. Still, our fabulous contractors were able to show the film crew how they put together the giant rock, plant and soil jigsaw, searching for exactly the right shape of stone to fit.

On Lecale fens just outside Downpatrick, the team got the macro lenses out to film the tiny Desmoulin’s whorl snail and the webs of the beautiful marsh fritillary butterfly. Filming is in the home stretch now, and a trip to Scotland in October will tell the tale of making Colonsay Island a rhododendron-free island and find out about surveying birds on the loughs and mountains of this beautiful area. The final filming will be with the Ulster University team surveying white-clawed crayfish on the Kilroosky lake cluster near Clones.

We are looking forward to seeing this lovely video when it is finished it has been a long time in the making, but we are sure it will be worth it.

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