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GP3 - Irish Peatland Restoration Project

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

The GP3 campaign to restore damaged peatlands is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Peatlands Initiative and hailed by Dianna Kopansky, Global Peatlands Coordinator.

A group of people standing on a peatland area
Peatland restoration work at Cloncrow bog in Co Westmeath as part of the EU Care Peat project

GP3 is an initiative launched in the summer of '21, the fruit of a collaboration between the Global Peatlands Initiative and the North Pennines’ AONB, as part of an overall plan to restore more than 50,000 hectares of damaged peatland, save millions of tonnes of carbon and boost biodiversity and the Irish rural economy. The collective effort by Bord na Móna, Coillte, National Parks and Wildlife Service, third-level colleges, farmers and local community groups among others is one of the largest peatland restoration projects ever undertaken in Europe and compares favourably with similar efforts undertaken in Belarus.

Peatlands Gathering team member Niall Ó Brolcháin of the National University of Ireland Galway and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics is the policy co-ordinator of the EU Care Peat project, focused on the restoration of peatlands and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. He commented: “Bord na Móna has embraced a new role in alignment with the EU Green Deal Just Transition mechanism and will be a leader in Ireland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve biodiversity as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 and in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals."

Originally the Turf Development Board, Bord na Móna was set up to develop Ireland’s peat resources for the economic benefit of the State in the 1930s. Initially the company produced sod peat and later changed to milled peat production, used to generate electricity, manufacture peat briquettes for home heating and to supply the horticulture industry with peat-based compost. However, scientific knowledge has changed this dynamic completely - now, because of climate change and biodiversity loss, there is a clear need to restore the most efficient carbon sink in the world as peatlands account for only 3% (circa 4 million KM2) of the total global land area while they contain more than 30% of all global soil carbon, weighing in at roughly 500billion metric tonnes.

Niall adds: “Restoration of peatlands presents an opportunity to reduce GHG emissions by up to 5% globally, with a considerably greater potential impact in Ireland. This could be of great benefit to rural Ireland and the farming community if handled correctly. In fact, this is probably the single biggest opportunity Ireland has to reduce emissions quickly as peatland covers about one fifth of the land area. This is hugely significant for Ireland, as land which was once seen as bogland is now being recognised as a major national asset. Many people are very surprised to hear that a hectare of peatland typically holds four times as much carbon as a hectare of tropical rainforest. Peatland will become more and more important and, indeed, more valuable as we head towards 2050 and our net zero carbon target."

Restoration work in Ireland is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Peatlands Initiative and on its GP3 campaign, Dianna Kopansky, Global Peatlands Coordinator, said: “Linking up to raise awareness of the potential of healthy peatlands for climate action, nature protection and our overall well-being is super important. Peatlands are a neglected ecosystem and by profiling the incredible peatlands restoration efforts across the globe we hope to awaken opportunities and inspire action. It brings me great hope for us to reach the climate goals when I see stakeholders moving away from peatland degradation and extractive practices like harvesting peat for use in horticulture or for fuel.

"More industry partners should follow Bord na Móna’s long-term thinking and transition their business away from destruction and toward restoration for the health of our people and the planet on which we depend. Peatland conservationists from around the world are coming together to share their stories about the work they do and the work that needs to be completed to fight climate change during the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.”

Bord na Móna Head of Land and Habitats Ger Breen said: “As these peatlands revive, they will also quickly become home to thousands of native plant, insect, animal and bird species. As this happens, they will again become places of great natural beauty for people to enjoy and appreciate. We are delighted to be working with such a broad range of people, inside and outside the company, who love Irish peatlands.”

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, who will be launching our Peatlands Gathering event this October, said at a recent Care Peat seminar: “A lot is happening with many positive measures being taken for the conservation and restoration of habitats and species in Ireland and Europe. There’s no doubt that we have a huge challenge ahead but we can do this collaboratively. I think there is great will, determination, skills and expertise, from the state agencies, the community and voluntary sector, our farmers and all our supporting organisations to bring about a real transformation in our peatland strategy”.

Development Officer for the Community Wetlands Forum in Ireland, Dr Shane Mc Guinness, said: “Peatland restoration under the Just Transition mechanism requires inclusion of the communities who live beside, protect, understand and wisely use them. The Community Wetlands Forum does precisely this, by supporting the community-led protection, management and wise use of Ireland’s wetlands. We provide a network for 25+ community groups across Ireland to share knowledge, ideas, research and best practice.

"Fundamentally, our vision is a society where wetlands are valued by local communities and community engagement is respectfully seen as a means of protecting and managing wetlands for present and future generations.

"The scalable rehabilitation of vast swathes of Ireland’s formerly mined peatlands by Bord na Móna is admirable and could present a powerful opportunity to engage with surrounding communities, by recognising the economic, amenity, cultural and wellbeing benefits of these areas, and ensuring a truly just transition away from peat as a fuel and the historical employment in mining it."

The increased awareness of the multiple benefits peatlands ecosystems provide is growing within the research community. NUI Galway researcher Dr Terry Morley said: “There are currently over a dozen different peatland-related research projects within Ireland. These projects are linking with local communities, farmers, regional & national authorities, and other researchers in Ireland and across the globe to further increase our knowledge of those the benefits and how we can best manage these resources for the future.”

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