Peatland Restoration Monitoring

Peatland Restoration Monitoring is an essential element of successful site management. In peatlands hydrology and vegetation are strongly connected with the healthy functioning of a site which makes them a priority for monitoring programmes.

Peatland Restoration Monitoring – Water Level

Monitoring water levels in a peatland is essential following blocking of drains with dams. This gives valuable information on the effectiveness of drain blocking activity. Usually a series of dipwells or piezometers are inserted on the peatland so as to monitor the height of the water table. These can be purchased or constructed from 52mm internal diameter PVC pipe or 2″ plastic waste pipe. To stop peat filling the tube from the base, cover the pipe with ladies’ tights (or gauze) affixed with tape or a cap. The top of the well should also be capped. Wells should be located in parallel transects perpendicular to the drains and marked using canes so that they are easy to find. Water levels should be measured monthly using either a plopper (which makes a particular sound when the water in the tube is reached) or a specially made dip stick that buzzes when it reaches the water. Measure the depth of the water in the well. Then subtract the distance between the top of the dipwell and the ground surface. This gives the depth of the water table below the surface of the bog.

Peatland Restoration Monitoring – Flora and Fauna

A useful monitoring technique is to record the wildlife occurring in a peatland. This needs to be carried out in the long term. In this way it can provide valuable information about changing species distributions in response to climate change. Indicator species might include Sphagnum mosses, amphibians, sundews or butterflies. All records should be sent to the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. Depending on how specific you want to be it may be necessary to have a professional scientist provide you with training on how to set up a species monitoring programme such as setting up a butterfly transect etc. Species monitoring programmes should be carried out annually on one occasion or over a number of seasons or weeks.

Peatland Restoration Monitoring – Vegetation

Typical peatland communities contain such species as Sphagnum mosses, a variety of heathers, bog cotton sedges, moor grass and sundews. The undulating surface of the bog provides a series of habitats such as drier cushions or hummocks and damp or wet hollows or pools in between. The various plant species are suited to either habitat or can occur in between both. If the variety of mosses, heathers, lichens and sedges are not present on the peatland, then it is unlikely that the restoration has been successful. In order to confirm that the restoration has been successful regular monitoring of the peatland plant communities will be necessary.

A peatland is considered to be in a healthy condition if it is actively accumulating peat. Certain plant communities and the locations in which they are found on the peatland are indicative of peat forming conditions. In Ireland this information has been determined through years of research commissioned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The work was undertaken by Dr Lara Kelly as part of her Doctoral Thesis in Trinity College Dublin (1995). A field key to help identifiy the raised bog ecotopes present on a raised bogs has been developed by field workers and is available from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin. The peat forming communities of Irish acid raised bog peatlands include Central and Sub-Central Ecotope classes. Their characteristics are summarised in the table below.

Ecotope Class Physical Characteristics Characteristic Plant Species
Central (Active Raised Bog Habitat) Bog surface very soft and often quaking. Microtopography usually ranges from pools to tall hummocks (well developed). Pools are frequent to dominant, however, pools do not have to be present for an area classed as Central. Lawns of Sphagnum cuspidatum are typical. All wet vegetation types are present and frequent. Sphagnum cuspidatum pools are common. Rhynchospora alba/algal hollows are absent. Cladonia Lichen dominated areas are absent.
Sub-Central (Active Raised Bog Habitat) Surface soft and sometimes quaking, occasionally hard. Microtopography ranges from Narthecium hollows to hummocks (moderately developed). Generally this ecotype is lawn dominated with ony a few hummocks. The lawns are usually dominated by Sphagnum magellanicum. Sphagnum cuspidatum pools occur occasionally and Rhynchospora alba/Algal hollows are scarce. Wetter vegetation, other than pools is common. Sphagnum magellanicum is often common. Sphagnum papillosum occurs in small amounts, although it can also be frequent. Trichophorum scarce. Sphagnum imbricatum is present as a relict from when the sub-central ecotope was central.

Three other ecotopes found on raised bog peatlands and these are regarded of being indicative of degraded raised bog vegetation. These are face-bank, marginal and sub-marginal. Their characteristics are summarized in the table below.

Ecotope Class Physical
Characteristic Plant Species
Face-Bank (Degraded Raised Bog Habitat) Water level low, surface very dry and hard.Degraded microtopography with low hummocks, flats,
hollows and lawns. No pools or wet habitats.
Very tall, vigorous Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris).
Marginal (Degraded Raised Bog Habitat) Water level low, surface generally hard, soft in spots e.g. Rhynchospora alba hollows.Degraded microtopography, with very little differentiation between hummocks and hollows. Non-algal pools and tall hummocks absent. Hollows can be frequent and these are dominated by Rhynchospora alba/Narthecium ossifragum/Trichophorum cespitosis in tussock form/Algal mats. Pools absent except for tear pools which arise due to shrinkage of the peat mass. In lawns Narthecium ossifragum is most dominant, Sphagnum papillosum and Sphagnum capillifolium present in small amounts (not lawns, not big hummocks, but small patches). Trichophorum common in tussock form. Carex panicea typically present (more so in the western raised bogs).In small hummocks  Calluna vulgaris, Sphagnum capillifolium, Cladonia portentosa common and burnt/drained plant types. Sphagnum species present in order of decreasing occurrence:  S. capillifolium > S. tenellum > S. magellanicum > S. papillosum.
Sub-Marginal (Degraded Raised Bog Habitat) Surface ranges from hard to soft but not quaking. Most wetter vegetation types are absent except for algal mats/Rhynchospora alba and Narthecium ossifragum hollows which are dominant. In lawns Sphagnum papillosum dominant, although absent from some areas. S. magellanicum and  S. capillifolium present but not  S. cuspidatum. Trichophorum common, but in less tussocky form than in the marginal ecotype. Rhynchospora fusca occurs in hollows and pools. In hummocks Calluna vulgaris, Sphagnum capillifolium, Cladonia portentosa and burnt/drained plant types.

It may be necessary to have a professional vegetation scientist undertake the survey of peat forming communities on a site and produce a map of their distribution. As a guideline such vegetation surveys should be repeated every 3 to 5 years depending on the resources.

Peatland Restoration Monitoring – Photographic

A very useful technique is to set up a series of photographic points on a site where digital or print photographs are taken each year to gauge changes on a site such as: spread of invasive species, changing vegetation types etc. Points should be chosen from where photographs of the landscape can be taken without obstruction. At the photographic point, photographs should be taken in each direction as appropriate. It may be useful to automatically include the date on the photograph.

Text, Photographs and Images © Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Bog of Allen Nature Centre, Lullymore, Rathangan, Co. Kildare. Email:; Tel: +353-45-860133.