An Taisce help to save Bog and Curlew in County Longford

Source: An Taisce

In late April 2016, An Taisce were alerted by distraught locals in Longford, that one of the last remaining bogs in their community was being destroyed. Without warning two excavators had driven onto the bog and started to strip the surface of its vegetation. This shattered the peace that had reigned on the bog in the intervening thirty years since Bord na Mona had partly drained it. Mostrim Bog also known as Coolamber Bog locally, along with the adjacent Ardagullion Bog are among the last remaining fragments of what was once an area of raised bog and wetland habitat that stretched in an arc along the Longford – Westmeath border from near the mouth of the Inny River to the shores of Lough Sheelin.

The works were part of a deal struck between Klasmann Deilmann Ireland Ltd. and Bord na Mona to strip mine the bog for sale as horticultural peat. An Taisce staff alerted Longford County Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) about the lack of planning approval for the works and the complete disregard for environmental law. An Taisce visited the site later that day with members of the local community and witnessed first-hand the scale of the destruction being caused and the lack of consideration for biodiversity, water quality, climate or the concerns of local residents.

Drainage and extraction of peat on Mostrim bog would have had the effect of lowering the water table and negatively impacting on the conservation of the adjacent Ardagullion bog, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), already degraded by drainage channels and turf cutting. Within the site there is a section of undrained bog which is separated from Ardagullion Bog by a strip of Coillte owned forestry. Such is the value of this area of bog that it is recognised as a Biodiversity Area by Bord na Mona. Ardagullion Bog and Mostrim Bog support some of the rarest habitats in Europe, Active Bog and Degraded Raised Bog. Mostrim Bog also contains one of Ireland’s rarest breeding birds, the Curlew. Ireland’s breeding Curlew population has decreased by over 96% in recent decades with only 125 known pairs. The loss of this once common and charismatic bird is due in part to the loss of bog habitats on which they nest. The site also supports skylark and snipe and is likely to be used by Hen Harrier and other threatened species. Many of the local streams which supported brown trout in living memory are now clogged with dark peat from cutover bogs. This situation would not have improved had Coolamber Bog been destroyed.

After An Taisce had left the site to report our findings Sue Moles, the National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Ranger for the Moyne district of Longford, showed up on site to halt the works and save the bog from further damage. The National Parks and Wildlife Service interviewed the two men on site and the owners of Klassman Dielmann at their head offices. In December of last year, Klasmann Deilmann Ireland Ltd., were taken to court and found to be in breach of the law and prosecuted in Longford District Court under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act. Section 40 of the Wildlife Act protects nesting birds from the destruction of their habitats and nests during the breeding season (March 1st – 31st August). The two employees of Klasmann Deilmann who had carried out the work pleaded guilty and maintained that they had been under the instructions of the company. Judge Hughes, the judge in the case, took the view that there was ‘no malicious intent on the part of the two men’ and agreed to strike out the proceedings and give no conviction, provided the company accept the request of the court to pay costs and make a donation to the court’s poor box. Klasmann Deilmann was successfully charged with ‘cutting grub, burning or otherwise, destroying any vegetation growing during the period March 1st to August 31st ’.

The ruling itself was little more than a slap on the wrist. Incomprehensible as it may seem the NPWS claim that they were not notified of the court date and were therefore unable to mount a case against Klasmann Deilmann, who claim to be “the world’s leading company in the substrate industry”, and are a major international operator headquartered in Germany. An Taisce have struggled for decades to see multi-nationals like Klassman Deilmann properly regulated and as extreme as this case may seem the injustice highlighted in this case is nothing out of the ordinary.

The penalty was not commensurate with the seriousness of the crime in An Taisce’s opinion, but it does represent a small victory for wildlife protection, in setting a precedent of successful prosecution under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts for the destruction of the habitat of ground nesting birds. It is to our knowledge the first time such a case has been brought due to the destruction of bog habitat during the nesting season.

Damaged by industrial and commercial turf cutting and fragmented by Coillte forestry and reclaimed agricultural land Mostrim Bog is a microcosm of all of the pressures that are threatening bogland biodiversity in 21st Century Ireland. Likewise these conflicting threats are mirrored in the array of stakeholders with often conflicting visions of the value of the site – Bord na Mona, Klasmann Deilmann, Coillte, the local community, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and An Taisce. We hope that all of the stakeholders can work together to protect Mostrim. There are positive examples such as Abbeyleix Bog is Laois and Ballydangan Bog in Roscommon where communities have been empowered to take over the stewardship of their local bogs with fantastic outcomes for the communities involved and wildlife.

Members of the community who wish to remain anonymous have stated that there has been enough damage done to the rivers and bogs locally. Their community like many other in the Midlands and the West have seen their young men and women emigrate. They would like for the bog to be there for them if they choose to return. They would like their grandchildren to know what a bog looks like and to know the joy of the call of the curlew in summer. They would be keen to work with groups like An Taisce and the NPWS to protect the wildlife on the Bog and maybe even reintroduce Red Grouse in the future.

Sue Moles of the NPWS hopes that the site will be protected and that Mostrim can be incorporated into the Ardagullion SAC. Coillte have expressed an interest in potentially removing some of the forestry to connect the two bogs. The biodiversity staff within Bord na Mona have in the past been open to working with communities and environmental groups to save fragments of bog within their vast estate. We are cautiously hopeful.

The work of An Taisces advocacy staff is supported by our members. If you would like to support our ongoing work in the protection of Ireland’s built and natural environment please become a member

If you witness any destruction of bogs or other rare or threatened habitats please contact and your local NPWS conservation ranger.