Conservation at Abbeyleix Bog
A typical raised bog
Abbeyleix Bog is a typical example of the raised bogs of the Irish Midlands. After the last ice age, these bogs began to form in lake-filled post-glacial depressions across the low-lying Midlands. The peat deposits are the result of partially decaying plant matter from around a lake's edge, which eventually accumulated to the point of replacing and even 'raising' the level of the lake.
As long as peat remains wet, the partially decayed organic materials in a raised bog are a carbon sink and store large amounts of carbon dioxide or CO2. This represents a significant opportunity for Ireland and its climate goals.
Several thousand years of peat accumulation—several metres deep!—at Abbeyleix Bog were disrupted in the 19th century when the peat began to be used for fuel. The bog was partially drained to make access easier and to build a railway line across it. Eventually, the bog was acquired from the Vesey family by Ireland's semi-state energy company Bord na Móna. More intensive drainage works then took place in the 1980s to facilitate industrial peat removal, which ultimately never commenced—thanks in part to community action.
Today, the main path at Abbeyleix Bog Project traces the same route as the old Portlaoise-Kilkenny-Waterford railway line.
Founded in 2000
Abbeyleix Bog Project began in 2000 as a local action group called AREA or the Abbeyleix Residents for Environment Action, pictured with the tractor. AREA sought to conserve and protect the bog from harvesting for horticultural moss.
Following negotiations with Bord Na Móna, a 50-year lease was signed in 2009 that allows the local community to manage Abbeyleix Bog with a primary focus on conservation. The current legal entity, Abbeyleix Bog Project Company Limited by Guarantee, was formed to manage the lease.
Abbeyleix Bog Project produced a Conservation Management Plan in 2013, which was followed by an independent Conservation Management Report in 2015.
Abbeyleix Bog and its surrounds include several semi-natural and modified habitats.
These include degraded raised bog and cutover bog, scrub, bog woodland and conifer woodland habitats.
We are also proud to maintain and add to a small area of active raised bog, which is defined under EU legislation as "still supporting a significant area of vegetation that is normally peat forming". This is an Annex I habitat type under the EU Habitats Directive (code 7110) and a priority habitat type.
The 2020 ecotope survey shows that the area of active raised bog habitat at Abbeyleix Bog has increased from 1.12 ha. in 2009 to 13.78 ha. in 2020, an increase of 1,130%.
The presence of an intact lagg along the eastern side of the bog is also significant—these transitional zones are now destroyed at most other raised bog sites due to peat cutting. The lagg at Abbeyleix Bog is partially wooded and is classified as ‘fen carr’ habitat.
Bog restoration and rehabilitation typically starts with reversing the effects of drainage. This includes blocking field drains, removing the wrong vegetation and re-establishing bog vegetation.
Two phases of drain blocking have taken place at Abbeyleix Bog, with over 3,000 individual dams installed (around 500 of them mapped in the image shown). The first phase took place in 2009, prior to Abbeyleix Bog Project's lease with Bord na Móna. The second commenced in Q3 2022.
This work hugely benefits the bog and community. It improves the peat's ability to retain carbon and support appropriate species, which in turn improves the bog's ability to deliver numerous other ecosystem services such as water filtration and erosion reduction.
Caring for the bog can look messy at times—things may look worse before they look better. Machinery on the bog such as diggers may appear severe but we have the best ecological and engineering experts available to advise us. All work has been carefully, scientifically planned!
Follow along with us on Facebook to see news of the drain blocking work and its positive impacts.
Research and monitoring
A lot of work goes into understanding Abbeyleix Bog, its habitats and its residents so as to ensure the best conservation plan for it and other similar sites.
As part of these efforts, research equipment may be found on the bog. We ask that you leave everything as you find it and stick to the main trails, even if you come across smaller temporary boardwalks (these are used only to access specific sites for research!).
If you are interested in undertaking research at Abbeyleix Bog, please contact us.
Abbeyleix Bog Conservation Management Report 2015-2020
Ecotope survey: Killamuck Bog (Abbeyleix, Co. Laois) High Bog Ecological Survey 2009
Abbeyleix Bog by any other name
Abbeyleix Bog has been called Killamuck Bog (as in the ecotope report above), Granafallow Bog, Ballymullen Bog and/or Collins Bog. Which you used depended on where you lived, or which townland you were from. And the Down Survey maps from 1656-1658 record the site as Grealaght Bog (image from Trinity College Dublin's Down Survey records for Cullenagh Barony in Laois, formerly Queens County).
Abbeyleix Bog is again a typical example—most Irish raised bogs are split amongst several townlands just as Abbeyleix Bog is, which indicates that people appreciated their value several centuries ago.
Our community from Abbeyleix, Laois and beyond has organised to ensure that plans for the bog align with the fundamental conservation objectives of the site and lease.
Abbeyleix Bog Project is backed by the structure outlined below.
Board of Directors
Abbeyleix Bog Project is an Irish company limited by guarantee and is governed by a voluntary board of directors. The board meets regularly and also convenes a health and safety subcommittee.
Chair of the Board: Ricky Whelan
Non-Executive Directors: Des Finnamore, Garry Luttrell, Fiona Dunne, Kate Hotten
Company Secretary: Kate Hotten
Abbeyleix Bog Project holds a lease with Bord na Móna, which a group of trustees helps to oversee alongside the board.
To ensure that we are up to date on conservation best practice, our board is advised by a Technical Advisory Group.
Representatives from Bord na Móna, National Parks and Wildlife Service or NPWS, Laois County Council and the Irish Peatland Conservation Council or IPCC have all fulfilled key advisory roles for us.