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Bog savaged

It is estimated that there has been a 99% loss of the original area of actively growing raised bog in Ireland, and one-third of the remaining 1% has been lost in the last 10 yearsTony Lowes 

 

The photograph opposite of Monivea bog near Athenry, Co. Galway is one of a series taken during an aerial survey of ‘protected’ bogs by Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] on 29 May 2012. Near Athenry, Co Galway. A priority habitat Natura 2000 site – one of the EU’s most important peatland sites, it was devastated by machine cutting on the weekend of 26/27 May – more than 50 plots were cut. NPWS rangers and the Gardaí reportedly “monitored” the cutting but did not intervene.

Seventeen of the 22 protected bogs FIE surveyed had been badly damaged by mechanical turf-cutting this year, in spite of the fact that only 2% of the bogs that can be cut have been protected. Draconian powers to seize machinery and stop work introduced last year have not been used and the government has so far failed to stop the turf cutters, whose militant stand-offs with the authorities have been well covered by the media. The Minister admitted to the Irish Times after the FIE survey that a third of Ireland’s 53 raised bogs had been “irreparably damaged.”

It is clear that the government’s enforcement strategy is a time-serving, delinquent failure, and that the European Commission’s softly-softly approach is failing to protect some of Europe’s most important and most threatened protected areas.

All we really need to remember is that Ireland’s 2010 Fourth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, stated that “It is estimated that there has been a 99% loss of the original area of actively growing raised bog in Ireland, and one-third of the remaining 1% has been lost in the last 10 years”.

It is important to highlight the nature of the activities involved. Turf-cutting is sometimes characterised as ‘traditional’, conjuring images of men and women, slean in hand, cutting small quantities of turf for personal use. In fact, as Valverde et al recorded in their 2006 report, hand-cutting “is not likely to be a significant activity on any designated raised bogs now or in the future”.

To this day, while some of the ancillary work involved is done by hand because it cannot be mechanised (e.g. footing (stacking) the turf to allow it to dry), the cutting itself is typically done by diggers.