Vanishing Wildlife In The Bog

By Donal Hickey

District Editor: Donal Hickey / editor: donal Hickey

For the few turf-cutters that are left it has been a brilliant year, with superb drying conditions. If you get windy and sunny weather in May, your turf will dry quickly. In Gneeveguilla long ago, our target was to have the turf home by the Killarney Races in mid-July but some people will certainly have their turf in the shed in June this year.

Sadly, the peatland landscape we knew well has changed almost beyond recognition and many bogs have been planted with conifers – to the detriment of wildlife. Bogs in which the cry of the curlew and the skylark’s song were familiar as a musical backdrop are now largely devoid of wild birds.

The plight of the curlew as an endangered species is well known. We remember a time when its plaintive cry was repeated regularly throughout the day. It was a bird that was heard more than seen.

In contrast, the skylark was highly visible. Easily disturbed, this smaller bird would suddenly rise out of the heather and begin to soar upwards. The higher it went, the better the weather, we were assured by our elders. And then it would remain almost suspended over our heads, constantly singing as we laboured on the turf bank beneath.

We also had hares and foxes in the bogs of Sliabh Luachra. And, whilst hares seem to have largely vanished from such terrain, we’re told that foxes can still be seen there as forestry provides cover for them.

On a hopeful note, attitudes to bogs have been changing. Once regarded as wastelands and often used as illegal dumps, bogs are now appreciated for their environmental value and as repositories of flora and fauna. In some areas, children and interested adults go on bogland walks to experience these natural gems.

A variety of butterflies can be seen in some bogs. The marsh fritillary, which lives in wetlands and bog margins, is the only Irish butterfly protected at a European level. Rare enough, it has black, white and orange markings and adults are most active in flight from May to early July. The marsh fritillary flies in mainly sunny conditions. Look out for it.

In parts of the Midlands where there was large-scale, commercial peat extraction by Bord na Mona over many decades, there are signs nature is slowly returning. Turraun Bog, in west Offaly, was the first to come out of production. Flooded in 1991, it is now said to be most species-rich bog in the area, with 110 bird species and 270 different plants.

 The marsh fritillary has again been seen in Turraun after an absence of more than 20 years. Bord na Móna ecologists described the sighting as a discovery of European significance.

Often criticised for destroying the bogs, Bord na Mona says this beautiful butterfly has returned because of extensive rehabilitation work that has taken place in Turraun and at the nearby Lough Boora Discovery Park.

Proof yet again that nature can be restored – with a little human help.

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