Bogs are forever
Peatlands are naturally waterlogged systems. This slows down decomposition and enables plant remains, containing carbon removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis, to be laid down as peat. As a result, peatlands in their natural state accumulate carbon, in the form of peat, at a rate of approximately 1mm a year. It is this long-term carbon storage that sets peatlands apart from other ecosystems.
Over 99% of Ireland’s peatlands, however, are no longer sequestering and storing carbon. As a result of decades of unsuitable land management practices, peatlands have instead become a significant net source of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) currently emitting approximately 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year. This is equivalent to around 10% of Ireland’s total emissions. around half of all the reduction efforts made annually in the UK so preventing further damage and restoring healthy ecosystem function can, therefore, play an important role in the fight against global heating. Besides enhancing biodiversity, conserving and restoring peatlands also helps to enhance water quality and control flooding.
Ireland has virtually no mature native woodland left but even if it did there would still be an upper limit to the amount of carbon it could accumulate. This reaches a maximum of about 500 tonnes per hectare for the richest soils. Bogs, however, can grow forever, steadily accumulating carbon as they grow deeper and deeper.
For example, Ireland’s deepest bog at Mongan is probably nine thousand years ‘old’ and has been growing all of that time so that parts of it today are 16 metres deep!
Consequently, bogs are a key ally in using nature to fight against climate change in terms of the carbon they accumulate and the carbon that they already hold. This can equate to many thousands of tons per hectare.
However, where the acrotelm the surface vegetation that forms the ‘skin‘ of the bog is damaged by drainage, turf-cutting, overgrazing and sometimes burning the bog ‘bleeds‘ CO2 emissions back into the atmosphere. Restoring them prevents this, turning them back from being carbon ‘sources‘ to being carbon ‘sinks‘ while also locking in the carbon already stored.
At the same time, restoration allows lost species of plants and wildlife to re-establish themselves so leaving a legacy for our children and future generations.
The multi-hued browns, greens, yellows and purples of the bogs form a key part of the iconic landscape that make Ireland Ireland giving it the unique vistas that draw people from across the world.
Bogs hold so much value to us, and that is why we are so determined to restore them.