Restoring the Bog at CAFRE’s Hill Farm Centre.
CAFRE (College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise) is developing ecosystem service delivery from the peatlands of its Hill Farm Centre in Glenwherry Co Antrim, through a 10-year re-wetting and restoration programme, that commenced in 2020.
The restoration project on a 57 hectare deeply drained site will reduce peatland greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water treatment costs at the local Killylane reservoir, alleviate flooding risk by delaying peak flow and spreading out downhill seepage time, and create valuable habitat for blanket bog flora and fauna, particularly at-risk ground-nesting birds.
Small teams of volunteers have been assisting with the peatland restoration work over the past month.
The teams have collected sphagnum moss from firebreak donor sites and hand sowed rewetted peatland with sphagnum and cotton grass. Further areas have been hand sown with specialised grass seed mixtures to act as a nurse crop for native species regeneration and larger areas left to naturally re-colonise.
With 20 hectares of groundworks completed this past winter to transform the Creeve Wood site from forest to bog, CAFRE will be demonstrating how fast the re-wetting techniques can return the bog to peat accumulating condition and how different re-vegetation treatments can assist the process.
CAFRE technologist Bryan Irvine admitted to an unusual enthusiasm for rain clouds this summer to assist the re-vegetation process.
Bryan said: “The aim is to keep the water table as high as possible, within 15cm of the surface for 90% of the year.
Keeping the water table as high as possible
This will allow re-colonisation by cotton grass, heathers and sphagnum mosses. Even with the dry spring in April, drain blocking has worked well and the site remains wet. Already the local wildlife has moved in with plenty of Red Grouse, Snipe, Meadow Pipit and Whinchat activity and even some Mallards are finding the larger ponds hard to resist.”
Bryan went on to explain that the removal of 62 hectares of conifers for biodiversity reasons was first considered a decade ago and has been strongly encouraged by the Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Partnership. The partnership had the vision to see how the surrounding 1400 hectares of open moorland would be opened up for wildlife particularly ground-nesting birds with the removal of this mostly Sitka Spruce small conifer woodland.
Partners and advisers of the GHRP have included representatives of CAFRE, Irish Grouse Conservation Trust (IGCT), RSPB NI, NI Raptor Study Group (NIRSG), Agri-Food Biological Sciences Institute (AFBI) as well as NI Environment Agency and Countryside Management Delivery.
Demonstrating resources and land management techniques
CAFRE is providing demonstration resources for land managers on peatland restoration methods for deep drained and shallow drained open moorland situations.A range of methods will be demonstrated for re-vegetation, but providing the right conditions for the natural seedbank to progress will be key to achieving success in this deep peat forest to bog restoration.