Ballynahone Bog
Cookstown Wildlife Trust
Founded: November 1960
Report on Cookstown Wildlife Trust visit to Ballynahone Bog Saturday 3rd August 2019 (Thanks to our Chairperson Ernie Hunter) and photos-Ernie and Ronnie. Seventeen of us attended the outing to Ballynahone Bog on Saturday 3rd August 2019 which was coincidentally International Bog Day! Access to Ballynahone Bog is restricted and only permitted when accompanied by an Ulster Wildlife staff member. We were privileged to be led by Andy Crory, Nature Reserves Manager. We were pleased that Dave Jewson, University of Ulster and founder member of Friends of Ballynahone Bog also joined us. Andy and Dave explained the ecological significance of Ballynahone Bog as an area of carbon storage and flood regulation. They told us that while for centuries there had been small scale peat usage, in the 1980’s the Bog had been purchased for commercial horticultural peat extraction with subsequent planning permission being granted to the firm. A number of local people (including Dave) were concerned about the destruction of the Bog and formed an environmental pressure group which eventually became the ‘Friends of Ballynahone Bog’. In 1994 they won a landmark battle when permission to extract peat was overturned and NIEA obtained a compulsory purchase order to buy back Ballynahone Bog from the commercial company for the sum of £1. The 203 Hectare Site has since been given protection as ASSI, SAC, and SPA and is also a Ramsar site. Before all this was achieved the Bog had already been severely compromised by major preparatory drainage. Sphagnum mosses are the main building plants of any bog. Sphagnum retains more than 30 times it’s dry weight as water. It also exchanges mineral ions for hydrogen ions thereby maintaining an acid environment stopping bacterial growth. This prevents decay of dead vegetation which is thereby preserved and accumulates in successive layers eventually forming peat. In some places on Ballynahone the peat is up to 4-5 metres deep. Sphagnum is however very sensitive to drying and will die and the bog degenerate unless the water table is kept within a few centimetres of the bog surface. After the Bog came under NIEA and Ulster Wildlife control, attempts were made to block the recently made drains with 1500 peat dams but these failed because of bypassing. LiDAR aerial mapping to show areas at most risk of drying, allowed a more targeted application of 200 plastic dams each about 2 metres deep. There was a noticeable improvement within 2-3 weeks of their placement. While this has helped preserve the Bog, it is still very fragile and sensitive to reduced overall rainfall in recent years. Intensive monitoring is ongoing and indeed Ballynahone Bog is now the most instrumented bog in Ireland with several Dip Wells, Hydrology Stations and Weather Stations. It is now recognised that a major threat to Ballynahone Bog is ammonia deposition from the air. Ammonia raises the pH which in turn kills Sphagnum mosses and allows algae to grow. Northern Ireland is one of the highest ammonia emitting areas in Europe and produces 12% of the ammonia emissions from the whole UK. The majority of ammonia emission comes from agriculture. Poultry farming is a heavy producer of ammonia but beef farming contributes most. Andy showed us one of the older passive Alpha ammonia monitors and also the more sophisticated and much more expensive Delta ammonia monitor. The critical level of ammonia for survival of a bog is 1 microgram/cubic metre. Currently at Ballynahone the reading is 10 micrograms/cubic metre!! While local commercial agriculture ventures play a major role in ammonia deposition on Ballynahone Bog it was also pointed out that 40% of the ammonia falling on Mid-Ulster actually comes from Cavan and Monaghan. Deintensification of agriculture island wide will obviously be required to have any significant impact. While we were being given all this scientific information Andy and Dave showed us some of the unique plants and fungi on Ballynahone Bog , including Sphagnum Mosses, Star Vetch, Bog Asphodel, Devil’s Matchsticks, Round-leaved Sundew, Oblong- leaved Sundew and the rare Bog Rosemary. It was a cloudy day making it more comfortable for us than baking sunshine, but unfortunately meant we did not see any of the 12-13 species of Dragonfly that the Bog supports, or any of the unique Butterflies. We did see some Common Blue Damselflies. We were lucky that we only had a few “skiffs” of rain. We all agreed that we had a very instructive and enjoyable morning on Ballynahone Bog. Our sincere thanks to Andy Crory and Dave Jewson for leading us through this magical place.