Yesterday afternoon, Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, visited County Wicklow to view and experience first-hand, the trial Peatland Restoration Project being delivered across several upland sites by the National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in conjunction with the SUAS Pilot Project.
Following a short hike to Barnacullian, the Minister was shown the project’s two key strands which are focussed on addressing areas of the mountainside ridges that have become degraded to the point that they need planned intervention measures to ensure there is no further loss of peat or upland habitats.
Leading the project on behalf of NPWS, Conservation Ranger Hugh McLindon demonstrated the recent construction of dams made from untreated timber which are being used to significantly slow the flow of water by blocking and repairing gullies formed through erosion, wildlife and human activities. This restores the water retention to the peat soils to support stability, the carbon sequestration process and the conditions required for appropriate upland vegetation to grow. A healthy blanket bog also acts as an important reservoir and natural filter to invaluable fresh water supplies. In time, these habitat actions will reverse the emission of carbon found on degraded and damaged sites, to one of a carbon sink with a thriving upland biodiversity.
The other key strand of the innovative project that was demonstrated yesterday, is the restoring of natural upland vegetation consisting of heather and mosses, to completely barren and unprotected areas – which left in their current condition have little hope of recovery. Using a technique pioneered by the ‘Moors For The Future’ project in the UK, heather cuttings or ‘brash’ as its also referred to, were sustainably harvested by conservation rangers of NPWS on SAC land during the winter months.
This acts as a seed and nutrient source, and once spread out over designated areas, also offers protection from the harsh elements. A nursery crop of specially formulated grasses is also added to assist stability, before naturally dying out once the heather has prospered and the mosses have recolonised. These areas have been fenced off to protect against grazing animals with signage in-place explaining the project in detail for hikers to discover.
All of this material including the timber used for dam construction, was airlifted to the high-altitude sites by helicopter as part of a complex operation in February.
Restoration work on the sites of Granamore and Ballinultagh that are included to the SUAS EIP Project, is being undertaken by commonage hill-farmers participating in the conservation-focussed scheme.
Work on the sites within the Wicklow Mountains National Park are being managed and undertaken by NPWS rangers with voluntary assistance from Mountaineering Ireland and the environmental community group, ReWild Wicklow.
We are very grateful to Minister Noonan, and all of the parties who participated in yesterday’s event and the interesting discussions onsite about a range of topics affecting the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands. It created a great opportunity to demonstrate the contributing factors causing the degradation and more importantly, to highlight the innovative work being delivered to reverse the damage.
Perhaps the real success of this project and indeed future initiatives to address Ireland’s other upland areas that have damaged habitats, is the ability to demonstrate how the collaborative approach taken between the diverse stakeholders has achieved the much-needed response needed to address some of the large and complex challenges facing the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands.
This includes state agencies such as the NPWS, NGO’s such as Wicklow Uplands Council and The SUAS Project, and working closely with hill-farmers to create shared conservation goals to ensure our great natural assets, our uplands, are a thriving ecosystem and natural resource into the future.