Speech by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, at the launch of the ‘The Living Bog’ EU LIFE Project
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I’d like to welcome you all to the Clara Nature Reserve Visitor Centre for the launch of ‘The Living Bog’ project.
This innovative and exciting project represents the largest single raised bog restoration programme ever undertaken by the state – restoring 12 raised bogs across 7 counties.
Without doubt, Ireland’s raised bogs are a very special and unique place.
Dating back over 10,000 years, they are among Europe’s oldest surviving, natural eco-systems and are of great importance for biodiversity, education, science and climate regulation.
They have played an important role in contributing to our natural capital, as well as our economy and, of course, our well-being and cultural heritage.
Our Raised bogs have inspired artists and scientists alike with their astonishing, natural beauty.
Given their age, preservative qualities and depth, they are among the world’s greatest time capsules.
Indeed, probe 10 metres into the ground and you instantly travel 10,000 years back in time!
As all of us in this centre today know, Irish raised bogs have been managed throughout the centuries for various uses, including industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic, to meet the needs of each and every generation.
In the 1990’s Ireland recognised that our raised bog resource was in serious decline and we took steps to designate 53 raised bogs as Special Areas of Conservation (also known as SACs and Natura 2000 sites).
Now, after many years of study, pilot restoration projects and much hard work between local communities, my Department, stage agencies, NGOs, landowners, and many other groups and organisations, we stand here today to launch the biggest single raised bog restoration project in the history of the state.
‘The Living Bog’ is a project, funded by the EU LIFE Programme’s Nature and Biodiversity Fund and proudly supported by my own Department.
The project will see a €5.4million investment in raised bog restoration on 12 of our 53 raised bog SACs with €1.3m of this being provided by my Department.
Work commenced last year with the appointment of a project team and they will work until 2020 bringing over 2,600 hectares of raised bog habitat back to life.
And just to put that in perspective for you – it is the equivalent of 7,000 Croke Parks!
The project team is working and will continue to work in conjunction with local stakeholders and communities to ensure that restoration of the sites is carried out in such a way that the conservation requirements of each site can be met while maximising benefits to the local community.
The raised bogs of Ireland are places that epitomise community spirit and are a place where people come together.
Our bogs are also a place of serenity and a wonderful exhibition of what nature can offer.
As we did in the past when communities came together to work on the bog, projects like ‘The Living Bog’ are bringing communities together to restore and celebrate the bogs.
In my own home constituency of Cavan/Monaghan the Living Bog team have been very active in the local community.
Indeed only two weeks ago, they hosted a very successful event ‘A Day on the Bog’ at Killyconny Bog in Mullagh, Co Cavan, organised in conjunction with the local community as part of Heritage Week 2017.
And that’s what I want to see, local communities and state agencies working together in a positive manner.
Of course this will involve consultation.
And it will take time and patience but it is only by working collaboratively, that we will achieve real results like the great project we are launching here today.
Over the coming years, the recreational amenity and educational potential of a number of ‘Living Bog’ project sites will be developed in conjunction with local communities.
Here in Clara for example ‘The Living Bog’ project team have been working closely with the Clara Community and Family Resource Centre and its Community Plan Steering Group on an important local project to develop the walking amenities in the vicinity of Clara Bog SAC.
I can also announce that community-led amenity provision is to happen on bogs close to the following towns and villages:
- Ferbane, Co Offaly
- Mountbellew, Co Galway
- Gorthaganny, Co Roscommon
- Mullagh, Co Cavan
Existing tracks and trails will be upgraded and new sections added to create looped walks around the bogs. Where suitable – and taking cognisance of sensitive habitats – we will look into adding boardwalks, bog bridge and pathways.
We are looking at linking bogs back to towns so they become a focal point for locals and visitors alike. Linking to towns, villages and existing greenways and blueways is a key focus of The Living Bog. The creation of amenity facilities will have a knock-on effect regarding tourism, hospitality and other local enterprises.
We look forward to these plans coming to fruition over the lifetime of this project.
‘The Living Bog’ project is a vital part of a programme of conservation measures set out within the National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan.
The project is hugely important not just for Ireland and its raised bogs, but for Europe, especially so when you consider that just over 50% of the remaining raised bog habitat in Western Europe is held in Ireland.
The project team will be working closely with landowners, local communities and other stakeholders in developing the restoration plans, drainage management plans and to maximise the socio-economic benefits of conservation during (and after) the project.
Of course it’s vitally important for some of our native species that we work to protect our bog habitats.
As some of you may be aware, I recently set up a Curlew Task Force to come up with ways of increasing Curlew numbers and raised bog restoration is an important part of that.
We only have 124 breeding pairs of Curlew left in Ireland and 70% of them nest on bogs.
I organised a public meeting in the Sliabh Beagh / Bragan area of my own constituency several months ago.
We are fortunate to have three breeding pairs of curlew in that area of North Monaghan.
I arranged for officials from my own Department and the Department of Agriculture to come down and speak at the meeting and I have to say I was overwhelmed by the response from the local community.
Almost 100 people turned up, the vast majority of whom were farmers and there was a genuine interest on the part of everybody in the room that night to work together to do their best for the bird.
And once again that comes back to the three Cs:
Consultation, Communication and Collaboration.
I am pleased to see that this project will also help to promote awareness of our bogs.
An impressive project website and social media presence is giving bogs a new lease of life online and an education and awareness programme will see bogs brought into the classroom.
And that’s important because the children of today will be the guardians of our bogs in the future.
It is my hope that the 12 projects sites – all great places of wild natural beauty and biodiversity in counties Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Galway, Roscommon, Meath and Cavan – will find pride of place in the hearts of their communities for generations to come, providing a place for communities to come together into the future.
Of course projects like this don’t happen by accident and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
I would like to thank, in particular, all those who have worked with my Department from this project’s inception to where it stands today.
I also want to thank the 14 person Project Steering Group, many of whom volunteer their time for the love of our peatlands and its communities and who offer vast experience from a range of areas, which is of great benefit to this ambitious project.
Finally I would like to thank you for the invitation to be here and I wish the LIFE team – Jack McGauley, Ronan Casey, John Cody, William Crowley and Evelyn Slevin – every success with this pioneering project.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.