Friday 17 February 2023

A bit of the ould sod

We live in an ever changing world. It would be grand if everything would stay the same as when we were 11 years old and running about bare-foot on a sunny Spring morning with our whole lives ahead of us. The general consensus is that most of the changes to the landscape are some form of degradation; because of the press of 8bn people and their need for food, plastic wash-up bowls, cell-phones and bicycles. Some folks make a stand and do their best to stop the rot insofar as they are able. One such consortium is the Drummin Bog Project which found the last small patch of raised bog in S County Carlow and vowed to a) preserve it from further depredation by drainage, litter, and fertilizer ingress b) turn back the clock by re-watering the area.

The thing is that bogs are a natural stage in ecological succession. Dips in any landscape accumulate water until a pond or lake establishes itself year round. Weeds grow in the water and shrubs develop at the pond edges. Later, Alder Alnus and Willow Salix trees overshadow the bushes and shed their leaves in the water until the bottom is full of partly rotted vegetation. Sphagnum moss also loves the damp edges and grows out into and finally over the pond. You then have a bog and the year by year accumulation of dead Sphagnum becomes peat, thick enough to walk on - if you don't mind squelching in your bare feet. It takes a long time: bogs get thicker by 1mm a year. But it doesn't (naturally) stop there. The mosses, shrubs and trees all suck up water and spew it out into the atmosphere and gradually the loss of water and addition of organic matter turns the area into dry land. Alder and Willow are replaced by Ash Fraxinus and Birch Betula and they in turn yield to forests where (hereabouts) Oak Quercus is likely to dominate. Dry Heath is another sort of intermediate stage in ecological succession . . . maintained in this extended adolescence by sheep which graze off saplings before they can become trees.

When Europeans spread out across North America thousands of square kilometers of the flatter landscape were covered in bogs [see Proulx]. The last 400 years has seen a catastrophic acceleration of bog-loss as wetlands have been drained for agriculture, roads, housing tracts and shopping malls. The same on a smaller scale in Ireland: far too much peat has been ripped from the land to fuel power-stations and the insatiable global demand for potting compost to leave degraded dark brown deserts across the Midlands. The Drummin Bog Project seems quixotic because the area is so small = 5 hectares of cut-away bog + 2 hectares of scrubby woodland. But Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. The D.B.P. is making small steps in the right direction -  mobilizing artists, teachers, scientists and creatives to raise awareness that a) there is a problem b) bogs are cool, diverse, and inspirational c) frogs and orchids have rights. May their engagement inspire other actions to promote a happier and more diverse and interesting planet county.

Now hear this! You can sponsor the work. The D.B.P. has cleverly used existing tech to survey and subdivide the area. That would be what3words which I've had >3 words about in the past. For €10 you get a 3m x 3m square of bog with which to empathize. There are nearly 8,000 such squares seeking a Laird. In contrast to the nonsense of selling plots on the Moon, you can actually go to visit your plot. 9 sq.m. is a handy kind of size: enough for a picnic rug [water-proof bottom!!], a cooler full of tinnies and a portable barbecue for to cook some sausages. Actually, I don't think the D.B.P really want visitors. Imagine: just settled down to enjoy a sausage sandwich and catch some rays, when someone in a Barbour jacket appears from behind a shrubbery to berate you for planting your arse on a rare orchid. But that's okay, it's not really about you (or me) it's about the orchids, frogs and a passing hen harrier. Anyway my patrimony [You may call me Lord Cyclist of Backside] is nothing special in the context of the bog but rich in possibilities for a better future for the planet.

We've done something similar before. Just after returning to Ireland in 1990, Crann and Coillte conceived a cunning plan to plant a tract of the Glencree Valley in Co Wicklow with native Oak trees. This was a shake up for Coillte, the semi-state forestry agency, which was obsessively committed to Sitka spruce Picea sitchensis for timber and Noble fir Abies procera for Christmas trees . . . both of which are alien invasives. We knew some of the tree-huggers involved and I was (briefly) on a fabulous tax-free retraining fellowship from Brussels. Accordingly, we stumped up 10 plot sponsorships and gave the ID+location certs to all our immediate rellies. I think they cost £10 and the idea was that for each donation, ten Oak whips would be planted near each other on the assumption that the best one would survive. Heck-and-jiminy, those Oaks are more than 30 years old now: must hunt out our certs and hug our locally elite tree.

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