OUR PRECIOUS BOGLAND
Ireland contains more bog, relatively speaking, than any country in Europe except Finland. Across Europe, as well as in Ireland, bogs have been exploited in recent centuries as a source of fuel. With many of the bogs in the rest of Europe already gone, Ireland's now have an increased importance.
The bogland here at Lough Mardal (as with all of Co. Donegal’s boglands) is known as blanket bog. These are really important habitat areas in the county with 24 of them designated as prime wildlife conservation areas.
Blanket bogs came about at the end of the last glaciation, aprox 7-10,000 years ago and those that are undrained and uncut are still actively growing. By 4,000bce Ireland would have been almost entirely covered in forest, the trees were more sparse on the highlands so in the Neolithic age people chose to start farming there. Clearing the trees resulted in nutrients leaching from the soil, water building up in it and smaller plants beginning to grow which made the soil acidic. High rainfall waterlogs the soil, rendering it very poor in oxygen. 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, over thousands of years layers upon layers of the dead plant remains accumulate as peat. Turf (another term for peat) has been an important fuel for Ireland but, being a fossil fuel, it is now rapidly being abandoned. Bogland however 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.
Importance of Blanket Bogs
"From a climate perspective, peatlands are the most essential terrestrial ecosystem." Tim Christophersen, United Nations Environment Programme
Blanket bogs are very valuable wetlands, not wastelands and there are a number of scientific, economic, cultural and moral reasons for conserving blanket bogs;
Only a small amount of blanket bog exists in the world. Ireland possesses 8% of the world’s blanket bog and is the most important country in Europe for this type of habitat.
Blanket bog landscapes provide a refuge for a rich biodiversity of species including several rare plants, birds and invertebrate species.
Blanket bogs are commonly used as rough grazing land for sheep and cattle, grouse shooting, deer stalking and fishing.
Blanket bogs preserve prehistoric farming landscapes beneath the peat as well as a diverse range of artefacts within the peat mass.
The patterns of pools on the flatter areas of blanket bog is of particular conservation significance. The pools support a specialised range of mosses (especially species of Sphagnum) and plants and they provide essential feeding habitats for wetland birds.
Within their peat layers, blanket bogs preserve a record of their own growth and development and on a larger scale, they provide insights into regional vegetation change, climate change, atmospheric pollution and act as chronometers for other events such as volcanic eruptions.
Blanket bogs accumulate and store millions of tonnes of carbon and have a vital function in controlling the green house gases that cause climate change.
Blanket bogs contain in excess of 90% water and act as vast water reservoirs. They have a vital role to play in the management of water within river catchments.
Blanket bogs and their utilisation for recreation can have positive benefits on the health of people.
The invasive species Rhodedendron Ponticum is a threat to the bogland and it is unfortunately present at Lough Mardal. Beautiful in full blossom in May but otherwise a curse, as once established it can spread quickly and competes with the native bogland flora for space and pollinators. A medium to long term plan of ours is focused on preventing its continued spread and ultimately eliminating it - but across 90 acres this is a gargantuam task.
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On the bog you can find a very rich diversity of plant and animal species which have specialized and adapted to thrive in a waterlogged, mostly acidic, nutrient-poor environment including numerous species of moss, lichen, frogs and newts, spider and insects as well as larger animal species such as the Irish hare, foxes, otter, red grouse and merlin. If you're lucky, very early in the morning or just after dusk, you might also spot Red Deer who often venture out of the adjacent forests. Well worn deer paths can easily be seen criss-crossing the bog.
A variety of birds either live or breed here such as Red Grouse -listen out for its very distinctive call which sounds a bit like 'go back, go back, go back', the Skylark, Pheasant, Meadow Pipit and Snipe - which also make an extraordinary very alien-like sound 'wu-wu-wu-wu' often leaving guests in bewilderment at what they have just heard! A pair of Canada Geese breed on one of the small islands on Lough Mardal every year and can be seen swimming on the lake. And the wonderful sound of the Cuckoo reverberates across Lough Mardal from mid-April.
Insects such as the impressive emperor moths feed on the heather and dragonflies and blue damselflies dart around the lake shoreline all summer. The butterflies you can watch out for are the Orange-tip, Speckled Wood, Green Hairstreak, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath, Painted Lady, Green-veined White, Red Admiral, Peacock, Great White, Small Copper as well as the now rare and protected Marsh Fritillary.
The main vegetation is Sphagnum moss. Typical bogland plants have a network of air spaces in their stems and roots so that they can grow in waterlogged conditions. Other vegetation also includes Reindeer Lichen (lichen being a 'dual organism' - part fungi part algae), Common Haircap moss, Purple Moor-grass, Black Bog-rush, Cottongrass, Sundew, Bog Asphodel, Tormentil, Bog Stitchwort, Eyebright, Marsh Pennywort, Devils-bit Scabious, Heath Milkwort, Meadow Sweet, Bog Pimpernel and Marsh Lousewort among many others. Ling and Bell heather and Cross-leaved Heath grows on the drier areas and Gorse bushes are scattered across all sections of our bogland. There are also a number of beautiful wild orchids that appear here during the summer though not in the bogland but in meadows adjacent to it (but no mention of wildflowers here can leave out the orchids!); namely the Early Marsh, Early Purple, Greater Butterfly and Heath-spotted Orchids.
A wonderful directory of Bog plantlife - many of which can be found at Lough Mardal - can be seen here:
Carnivorous plants are a feature of bogland habitats, they get extra nutrients by trapping and digesting small animals. There are at least two carnivorous plant species that we've found here; Round-leaved Sundew and Bladderwort. Check here to see a video of the Sundew plant having lunch - not for the squeamish!
Over the changing of the seasons we are continually logging sightings from our daily rambles in our Nature Diary where we upload photos and videos of latest discoveries.