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 also International Bog Day! Access to Ballynahone Bog is only permitted when accompanied by an Ulster Wildlife staff member. We were privileged to be led by Andy Crory, Nature Reserves Manager. Dave Jewson, University of Ulster and founder member of Friends of Ballynahone Bog also joined us. Andy and David explained the ecological significance of Ballynahone Bog-an area of carbon storage and flood regulation. They told us that for centuries there had been small scale peat usage,but in the 1980’s the Bog had been purchased for commercial horticultural peat extraction and subsequent planning permission was granted to the firm. A number of local people (including Dave) concerned about the destruction of the Bog, 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 this was achieved the Bog was severely compromised by major preparatory drainage. Sphagnum mosses are the main building plants of any bog. Sphagnum retains 30 times it’s own dry weight as water, and exchanges mineral ions for hydrogen ions, so maintaining an acid environment stopping bacterial growth and preventing decay of vegetation. Vegetation is preserved and accumulates eventually forming peat. In some places on Ballynahone peat is 4-5 metres deep. Sphagnum is however sensitive to drying. It 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 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 targeted application of 200 plastic dams each about 2 metres deep. There was a noticeable improvement within 2-3 weeks of placement.This has helped preserve the Bog but it is still fragile and sensitive to reduced overall rainfall in recent years. Intensive monitoring is ongoing and Ballynahone Bog is now the most instrumented bog in Ireland with several Dip Wells, Hydrology Stations and Weather Stations. It is recognised that a major threat to Ballynahone Bog is ammonia deposition from air. Ammonia raises the pH which kills Sphagnum mosses and allows algae to grow. Northern Ireland is one of the highest ammonia emitting areas in Europe,producing 12% of the ammonia emissions from the whole UK. The majority of ammonia 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 a more sophisticated but 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 plays a major role in ammonia deposition on Ballynahone Bog ,40% of the ammonia falling on Mid-Ulster actually comes from Cavan and Monaghan. Deintensification of agriculture island wide will be required to have any significant impact. While we were being given this scientific information Andy and Dave showed us some 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. A cloudy day made it more comfortable than baking sunshine, but unfortunately mean’t we did not see any of the 12-13 species of Dragonfly on the Bog or any of the unique Butterflies. We did see Common Blue Damselflies,and only only had a few “skiffs” of rain. A very instructive and enjoyable morning on Ballynahone Bog and sincere thanks to Andy Crory and Dave Jewson for leading us through this magical place.