Halting the Loss of Peatland Biodiversity

Peatlands are home to a high proportion of Ireland’s biodiveristy. The table below attempts to quantify their biodiversity importance. The figures are taken from the IPCC’s Peatlands 2020 Conservation Action Plan published in 2009.

Peatland Habitats and Species Peatland Biodiversity
Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) 149 peatland NHAs
Proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA) 457 peatland pNHAs
Special Area of Conservation (SAC) 211 peatland SACs (50%)
Original flora in Ireland 15% of original flora are peatland plants
Bird species 14% (59 species). 49% of all endangered birds in Ireland occur on peatlands, most as breeding species
Animal species 26% dependent on peatlands in some phase of their life cycle
Butterfly and moth species 23 of the 28 butterfly species found in Ireland are found on peatlands. There are two species that rely on bogs for breeding: the Large Heath (Coenonympha tullia) and Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi).

Although approximately 16% of the total land area of Ireland was originally covered by peatlands, their use has been so intensive that less than one fifth of the original peatland area is today in a natural state. The drivers of peatland biodiversity loss are habitat loss, invasive alien species, over-exploitation, nutrient pollution and climate change.

The main cause of peatland degradation has been drainage associated with hand, mechanical and industrial peat extraction. It is difficult to quantify the effects these activities have had on the diversity of peatland types and species. It is clear that certain peatland habitats such as lagg zones (margin of raised bogs) have been lost along with the unusual species that are likely to have occurred within them. The unusual soak systems of the midland raised bogs have largely been lost, and those remaining are severely threatened thus marking a further erosion of Ireland’s natural peatland biodiversity. New evidence from raised bogs (Turf Cutting Impact Assessment Report 2006/07 by NPWS) proves that the on-going cutting of turf and associated drainage has resulted in a drastic decline in the area of active raised bog in the country to just 1,945ha or 0.6% of the original area. 47% of peatlands in Ireland have already been destroyed by peat extraction and every peatland of conservation importance has been partially drained in association with many years of turf cutting.

The table below analyses the factors indcative of the loss of peatland biodiversity.

Factors Threatening Peatland
Biodiversity in Ireland
Habitat loss Habitat change and fragmentation, such asovergrazing or the plantation of forestry on peatlands, can have grave consequences forfloral and faunal conservation.
 Invasive alien species Invasive species out-compete native vegetation, which can have a de-stabilising effect on the entire eco-system. Examples include Rhododendron ponticum on western peatlands.
 Over-exploitation for peat Over-exploitation of peatlands can have devastating impacts on peatland habitats, flora and fauna. Examples include peat extraction, which affects every peatland site in the country.
 Nutrient pollution Pollution can have short and long term health effects on individuals and species. Examples are the nutrient enrichment of fen peatlands from septic tanks or from the application of fertiliser on lands surrounding a fen.
 Climate change Peatland flora and fauna are highly adapted and cannot all adapt to the pace of human-caused climate change. Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), which is at its southern limit of distribution in Ireland could disappear from our peatlands.

Assessment, Monitoring and Reporting under the Habitats Directive

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have completed a report entitled Assessment, Monitoring and Reporting under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive, 2006. In this report the conservation status of each habitat and species are listed as “Good (Green)”, “Unfavourable – Inadequate (Amber)” or “Unfavourable – Bad (Red)”. The assessments carried out found that 10 years after the introduction of the habitats directive, no peatland type of priority importance in Ireland is in good conservation status. In addition priority species such as the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly and the three species of Whorl snail (Vertigo moulinsiana, Vertigo geyeri and Vertigo angustior) were all found to be under threat. An EU Action Plan entitled Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2010 – and Beyond was launched in May 2006 and contained 150 actions and 10 key objectives to be implemented at community and member state level in relation to biodiversity. The protection of peatland species and habitats and maintaining them in favourable conservation status is fundamental to halting the loss of peatland biodiversity.

IPCC Action Plan for Peatland Biodiversity

The table below lists the actions needed to achieve the protection of peatland biodiversity.

Actions Needed to Halt Peatland
iodiversity Loss
  Priority Timescale
Short (0-3 years)
Medium (3-5 years)
Long (5-10 years)
Complete the formal legal designation of all proposed NHAs, SACs and SPAs.   High  Short
Ensure that the SAC network of habitats and species protected is representative of the range, area, structure and functions occurring in Ireland.   High   Medium
Monitor and adequately resource the protection of designated peatland habitats, indicator species and birds.   High  On-going
Introduce wider countryside management measures so as to provide a robust network of protection for threatened peatlands, which lieoutside of the Natura 2000 network such as providing wildlife habitat corridors between conserved sites.   High   On-going
Expand, maintain, restore and connect peatland sites included in the SAC, SPA and NHA networks developed to represent the full diversity of peatland habitats and species in Ireland.   High   Medium
Carry out and complete inventories of peatland biodiversity (i.e. fens, Heathlands and invertebrates).    Medium    Medium
Restore degraded peatlands and peatland habitats on cutaway bogs and highlight the benefits of this in halting biodiversity loss.   High    Medium
Consult landowners of designated sites in relation to biodiversity protection and management.   High  On-going
Encourage farmers through an adequately funded REPS scheme to engage in the active protection of peatland biodiversity through appropriate management and restoration activities.   High  Medium
Raise awareness and provide education materials on the services provided by intact peatlands in Ireland.   Medium   Short
Conserve and sustainably manage peatland species important for medical research.   Medium  On-going
Provide funding for the implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan and Local Biodiversity Action Plans.   High   Medium
Incorporate the recommendations of the BOGLAND project on the development of a national peatland policy for Ireland in relation to biodiversity.   High   Short
Integrate biodiversity considerations into all government departments.   High   Short
Integrate biodiversity considerations into all development plans and urban spatial plans so as to deliver on biodiversity objectives.   High   Medium

Source Citation

Malone, S. and O’Connell, C. (2009) Ireland’s Peatland Conservation Action Plan 2020 – halting the loss of peatland biodiversity. Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Kildare.

Expanding on the Content of the IPCC Action Plan 2020

Please follow the links below to further information from the IPCC Action Plan 2020.

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