Luggala peatlands will be restored to support carbon capture and biodiversity
A peatland restoration project across vast upland bogs and moors is to be undertaken in the famous Luggala Estate in the Wicklow Mountains.
Luggala Estate Limited said it is “starting its response to tackle climate and biodiversity emergencies” through the initiative, which would see 1,300 hectares of peatlands restored over several years.
The estate, owned by the Guinness family for decades, was sold in 2019 for an undisclosed sum – albeit less than the asking price of € 28m – to London-based Count Luca Rinaldo Contardo Padulli di Vighignolo, a tycoon of the Italian real estate.
Luggala bogs consist of covered bogs, wet heather and dry heather. Peat harvested from Luggala provided fuel during the “emergency” of World War II. Areas mainly close to upland roads have been drained for peat extraction, thereby removing surface vegetation.
There was extensive drainage of peatlands over the following decades, linked to an effort to improve grazing or to prepare the land for forestry. This has significantly affected the hydrology and integrity of the peatlands in these areas as habitats are drying out. The added pressure of grazing by deer and sheep has also significantly affected its habitat condition.
“This is an ambitious project that will take many years to complete. We will start with detailed ecological and hydrological studies, then focus on a goal of restoring 150 hectares of peatland cover and improving heath management on an additional 150 hectares of dry and wet heather, ”said Anthony Blanchfield, environment manager at Luggala.
“We know the important role that peatlands play in carbon sequestration and in rewetting and restoring Luggala peatland habitats, we can make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and provide a response to loss of biodiversity, ”he said.
The Luggala Estate covers over 1,800 hectares and is one of Ireland’s most spectacular mountain scenery, making it a very popular hiking spot. It is designated as an EU Natura 2000 habitat as well as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA).
It is located in a high quality ‘blue point’ water watershed, as designated by the EU Water Framework Directive.
“Peat bogs are at the heart of the domain’s high water quality. Rewetting the bog will help reduce high flood levels downstream, Mr Blanchfield said.
He noted that “preliminary ecological results identified drainage and grazing levels as the main problems and causing poor habitat condition. Our ecologist found little evidence of the presence of sphagnum moss on the bog, which is so important as a cornerstone of peatland health.
During a year-long environmental investigation – in which Count Padulli di Vighignolo reportedly took an active interest – the ecosystem turned out to be in a much worse state than expected, “and we recognized the need to ” act quickly and decisively. making the bog a carbon sink and restoring its ecology, ”said Blanchfield.
He said they hope to start the peatland restoration program this year with a series of studies, testing and planning, and they hope to see progress quickly.
“Ireland has particular expertise in peatland restoration, and we look forward to learning from the experiences of others and working closely with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and others as we undertake this work.”
On the issue of access for walkers, a spokesperson for Luggala Estate said it was “open to responsible walkers and in line with Covid-19 guidelines.”
On its website, walkers are requested to send their contact details by e-mail before any planned walk and to access the area on weekends via the “kissing gate”.
Hikers have worried about restrictions since the new owners took over the estate, fearing that some traditionally popular hiking routes through the property could be closed.
The owners point out that this is a working estate “so there may be times when access to the estate is restricted.” This means that the planned walks may not be accepted ”.
Filming for the television series Vikings and Farming has been cited in the past as reasons for restricting access.