Speech by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, at Ballydangan Bog, Co. Roscommon to view the Ballydangan Bog Red Grouse Project
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I was delighted to receive the invitation from the Ballydangan Red Grouse Project team and Bord na Móna and to accompany Minister Naughten here today to see the tremendous work that has been done by the members of the Ballydangan Red Grouse Project Team and the local community to conserve the local population of Red Grouse.
The Red Grouse or “the Heather Hen” was on the brink of local extinction and without the hard work and efforts of the Moore Gun Club and Roscommon Regional Game Council, since 2010, it may have been lost forever in this area.
The Red Grouse is a Red-Listed Bird of Conservation Concern in Ireland. The results of the most recent Red Grouse survey (2006-2008) show a dramatic decline in the population over the last 40 years, with an estimated decline of 50% in the breeding range with the spring population estimated at 4,200 adult birds.
The Red Grouse population at Ballydangan Bog and the conservation management efforts of the project are, therefore, very significant.
Of course projects like this don’t happen by accident and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of people. It is great to acknowledge the project team, supported by Bord Na Móna, other organisations and Government Departments, who have worked tirelessly on strategies such as predator control, heather management, monitoring, disturbance control, public awareness and education in order to raise awareness of the plight of this species and its habitat.
The hen red grouse nest in mature heather and so bog habitat is critical to successful breeding.
Raised bogs are a haven for rare wildlife, with many plants and animals totally unique to this rugged, liquid habitat. My Department and organisations such as Bord Na Móna and local communities, carry out vital work in protecting and conserving our native habitats and species, and particularly endangered species.
As some of you may be aware, I recently set up a Curlew Task Force to come up with ways of increasing Curlew numbers.
Last November, I attended a meeting about the curlew in crisis. I immediately asked officials in my Department to set up a task force to look at the reasons for its decline and to advise me on measures that could be implemented towards a recovery.
I am glad to say that a very effective and representative group was formed as a result. We have hired 14 seasonal workers, and we have had great cooperation from landowners and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The Curlew Conservation Programme has built skillsets, experience and gained much momentum in its inaugural year. It is another great example of local efforts that offers hope that the drastic declines can be halted locally and even reversed. It is a very positive start but we still have an awful lot to do.
I am pleased to learn that, since the Ballydangan Red Grouse Project began, the bog has become a national hotspot for Curlews. I hope that this success will be followed by similar positive results in other areas.
Ireland is unique in that it holds the last remnants of raised bog landscapes in Europe. Our bogs and their flora and fauna play an important role in contributing to our natural capital, as well as to our well-being and cultural heritage.
The reality, however, is that our raised bogs have been in decline over the years with over 37% of our active raised bog, where conditions are right for peat to form, in the raised bog Special Area of Conservation (SAC) network having been lost. We now need to work together to reverse this decline.
There is much hope for the raised bog habitat and the important biodiversity it supports. Under the National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan 2017-2022, which I intend to publish in the coming weeks, a programme for the restoration of designated raised bogs is set out. This programme has already begun with a project to restore 12 raised bog SACs across 7 counties under the EU LIFE ‘The Living Bog’ Project, which I launched last month.
These restored bogs can go on to provide recreational amenity and have educational potential, which will be developed further with local communities.
A guidance document that outlines current best practice in the restoration of Irish raised bogs will be published in conjunction with the National Plan.
The restoration works to be undertaken build on the pilot conservation projects on our bogs and much hard work done between my Department, State agencies, NGOs, landowners and turbary right holders, and many other groups and organisations in the rehabilitation and restoration of Ireland’s raised bogs.
Indeed, Bord na Móna has recognised the high potential of bogs such as Ballydangan Bog, particularly for peatland restoration and has zoned many bogs as biodiversity areas.
I wish to congratulate Bord na Móna on its bog restoration programme and wish it every success in its continued implementation.
Speaking of biodiversity, I was delighted to recently launch Ireland’s third National Biodiversity Action Plan in Dublin. The implementation of Bord Na Móna’s own biodiversity plan will form an action in this National Plan to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside.
As I noted at the time, we are lucky in Ireland to be surrounded by an abundance of nature. We also gain many fundamental benefits from a healthy biodiversity, with many of Ireland’s economic sectors dependent on our natural capital. The new National Biodiversity Action Plan for 2017-2021 demonstrates Ireland’s continuing commitment to acting on its obligations, both domestic and international, to protect our biodiversity for the benefit of future generations.
We need to be clear that all sectors of society need to be engaged on this important issue for this Plan to be a success. Local government and local community involvement, in particular, is crucial. In this regard I have announced funding, following last week’s budget, to support local authorities in their efforts supporting the Plan through locally focused biodiversity projects.
Cohesion across Government is central to the success of the Plan, and we are committed to working together, in cooperation with the many stakeholders across the heritage sector, to make the implementation of the Plan a success.
The raised bogs of Ireland are special places where communities can meet and enjoy the natural and unique landscape.
Projects like ‘The Red Grouse Project’ are bringing communities together to celebrate the biodiversity of our bogs. And that’s what I want to see more of, local communities and State organisations working proactively and positively together.
Development of community led conservation and management groups is recognised as one of the best ways to ensure the long term protection of habitats and species. Community groups can respond quickly and are far sighted in their awareness of the socio-economic benefits that the conservation of sites can provide.
And as I said at the launch of the EU LIFE ‘Living Bog’ Raised Bog Restoration Project in September it always comes back to the three Cs:
Consultation, Communication and Collaboration.
May I conclude by thanking all those who have put so much effort, valuable time and energy into conserving our native species and habitats and on being an outstanding example of how people can come together for a combined purpose.
I commend the Ballydangan Red Grouse Project Team for its initiative and wish the team the very best of luck in its future endeavours.
Thank you for the invitation to be here and indeed thank you for your warm reception.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.