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The Potential of Restored Peatlands for Carbon Sequestration


The full final report can be downloaded here:



Study sites

Greenhouse gas measurements

Research Personnel

Further reading




Pristine or undamaged peatlands play a major role in the regulation and maintenance of the global climate by acting as long-term sinks of atmospheric carbon (C). As a result of a persistently high water table and the presence of peat forming vegetation within the peatland, C inputs (photosynthesis) are greater than C losses (respiration, methane (CH4) emissions, leaching and surface runoff of dissolved organic carbon (DOC)). The strength of this C sequestration function, however, can vary from one year to the next and the peatland can switch from being a C sink to a C source as a result of variations in climate and subsequent changes in the water table level. When a peatland undergoes a change in land use, for example industrial peat extraction, the C sink function is seriously impaired. Drainage results in increased emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the peatland is transformed into a significant C source.


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In Ireland, it is estimated that over the next 30-40 years, the 80,000 ha of industrial peatlands in Ireland will have reached the end of their economic life. Restoration of these damaged ecosystems offers the potential to enhance biodiversity, reduce gaseous C losses and return the C sequestration function. Peatland restoration, as opposed to rehabilitation, aims to recreate, as far as possible, the conditions necessary for peat accumulation (and therefore C sequestration) to occur. This commonly involves raising the water table through drain blockage and the active reintroduction of peat forming plant species, such as Sphagna mosses. To date, C gas studies in post harvested peatlands in Ireland have mainly focused on the C sequestration potential of alternative land use options, such as amenity wetlands, afforestation and naturally regenerated birch woodland, rather than the restoration of the peatland per  se. Whilst studies in boreal peatlands have shown that restored peatlands could potentially be a C sink it is less certain whether this is possible under the milder climatic conditions in Ireland.



Project deliverables                                        Top


The CarbonRestore project is a three-year study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Strive Programme 2007-2013. The project commenced in June 2008 and will run until May 2010. The aims of the project are two fold. Firstly, a comprehensive literature review will be conducted to collate all available information in regard to C gas studies in peatlands previously damaged through peat extraction. From this review, an economic cost benefit analysis will be applied to determine the optimum land use option for damaged peatlands in regard to C sequestration. Secondly, the project will yield new information on the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) balance of a restored industrial cutaway peatland. The main study site is located at Bellacorick, Co. Mayo (see below). In order to provide a reference state to compare the results of restoration, GHG measurements will also be taken at an adjacent intact Atlantic blanket bog at Knockmoyle Sheskin Nature Reserve.

A final report is currently being drafted. 





Study Sites   


Bellacorick, Co. Mayo The primary study site is located in an industrial cutaway peatland at Bellacorick, Co. Mayo. Bord na Móna developed a peat production area in the west of Ireland in the 1950s to supply peat to the electricity generating station at Bellacorick. Milled peat production ceased in 2003 coinciding with closure of the ESB station in 2004. A baseline study was initiated in 1996 to form the scientific basis for development of a rehabilitation plan for the area, with a view to determining the scope for restoration of peat-forming conditions.  The original Atlantic blanket bog ecosystem has been altered irreversibly and it is impossible to restore the area to pristine Atlantic blanket bog. However, there is spontaneous regeneration of peat-forming vegetation in core areas where the water table has been raised to the peat surface.


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Photos: C. Farrell / Bord na Móna


These observations led to the development of a detailed overall rehabilitation plan that incorporated the following criteria for success for the site: (1) Stabilisation of peat through acceleration of re-vegetation: this was achieved through extensive drain blocking and ridging on gravel hills and slopes and (2) restoration of peat forming conditions where possible: this was achieved by selecting areas that could be rewetted to encourage Sphagnum establishment.


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Photos: D.Wilson


Knockmoyle Sheskin: A study site was also established on an adjacent intact Atlantic blanket bog at Knockmoyle Sheskin. The bog covers around 1200 ha and is dominated by black bog rush (Schoenus nigricans), bog cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium), deer sedge and purple moor grass (Molinea caerulea).

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Greenhouse gas measurements          Top

CO2, CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes are measured using static light and dark chambers. CO2 is measured in situ using a portable infra-red gas analyser.  CH4 and N2O samples are taken into syringes and measured in the laboratory on a gas chromatograph within 24 hours of sampling. Flux rates are determined using regression techniques. A meteorological station has been established at Bellacorick and soil temperature and water table depth is monitored at all sites.




Research Personnel                                    Top


Prof. Christoph Müller
Role: Principal Investigator

Background: Head of the soil science group at the School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin. Previously, worked as Assistant Professor at Giessen University (Germany) in the Department of Plant Ecology. His main responsibilities in Giessen were the development of collaborative research projects within the framework of the Giessen Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (GiFACE) study.

Research Interests:



Web site: Click here

Phone: + 353 1 716 7781

Fax: + 353 1 716 1102




Dr David Wilson                                        Top

Role: Project Manager

Background: Agricultural and Environmental Science

Research Interests: Greenhouse gas balances and carbon stocks in intact, damaged and restored peatlands, climate change and vegetation dynamics



Web site:



Dr Florence Renou-Wilson                       Top

Role: Project team

Background: Agriculture, forestry and environmental resource management

Research Interests: Peatland ecosystems, environmental modelling


Web site: Click here

Phone: + 353 1 716 7725

Fax: + 353 1 716 1102




Dr Catherine Farrell                                   Top

Role: Project team

Background: Botany

Research Interests: Rehabilitation and restoration of habitats, establishing eco-networks, cutaway bog management


Phone: + 353 57 934 5900




Dr Eeva-Stiina Tuittila                                   Top

Role: Project team

Background: Peatland Ecology Group, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Research Interests: Vegetation and carbon dynamics of various peatland ecosystems. Linking biodiversity and abiotic factors to ecosystem functioning over various time scales.



Web site: Click here

Phone: + 358 9 191 58147

Fax: + 358 9 191 58100


Steering Committee

Prof. Harri Vasander

University of Helsinki, Finland


Dr Hans Joosten

University of Greifswald, Germany



Further reading                                           Top


Visitors to this Webpage may be interested in some of the recent publications from members of the CarbonRestore project team.


Renou-Wilson F., Bolger T., Bullock C., Convery, F., Curry, J.P., Ward, S., Wilson, D., Muller, C. 2010. BOGLAND - a protocol for the sustainable management of peatlands in Ireland. ERDTI/STRIVE Report prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency, Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. 

Renou-Wilson F. & Farrell C. A. 2009. Peatland vulnerability to energy-related developments from climate-change policy in Ireland: the case of wind farms. Mires and Peat 4(Article 08): 1-11. Online at:


Wilson, D., J. Alm, J. Laine, K. A. Byrne, E. P. Farrell and E.-S. Tuittila. 2009 Rewetting of cutaway peatlands: Are we re-creating hotspots of methane emissions? Restoration Ecology, 17960:796-806. 

Wilson D. 2009. Death by a thousand cuts. Irish Times, 24 January 2009.



Renou-Wilson, F., M. Keane, and E.P. Farrell 2008. Effect of planting stocktype and cultivation treatment on the establishment of Norway spruce on cutaway peatlands. New Forests, 36, 307-330


Wilson D. 2008. Death by a thousand cuts: small-scale peat extraction and the Irish peatland carbon store. In: Farrell C. A. & Feehan J. (eds.), 13th International Peat Congress: After Wise-Use: The Future of Peatlands, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland, International Peat Society, pp. 700-704.



Müller, C., T. Rütting, J. Kattge, R.J. Laughlin, R.J. Stevens, 2007. Estimation of parameters in complex 15N tracing models via Monte Carlo sampling. Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 39, 715-726.


Renou, F., M. Keane, G. McNally, J. O'Sullivan, E.P. Farrell, 2007. BOGFOR Project Final Report: A research programme to develop a forest resource on industrial cutaway peatlands in the Irish midlands. Coford, Dublin.


Wilson, D., J. Alm, T. Riutta, J. Laine, K. A. Byrne, E. P. Farrell and E.-S. Tuittila. 2007. A high resolution green area index for modelling the seasonal dynamics of CO2 exchange in vascular plant peatland communities. Plant Ecology. 190: 37-51 DOI 10.1007/s11258-006-9189-1


Wilson, D., E.-S. Tuittila, J. Alm, J. Laine, E. P. Farrell and K. A. Byrne. 2007. Carbon dioxide dynamics of a restored maritime peatland. Ecoscience 14: 71-80


Yli-Petäys, M., J. Laine, H. Vasander and E.-S. Tuittila. 2007. Carbon gas exchange of a revegetated cut-away peatland five decades after abandonment. Boreal Environment Research 12: 177-190



Farrell, C.A. 2006. Peatland Utilisation and Research in Ireland. Walsh Printers, Tipperary.


Laine, A., M. Sottocornola, G. Kiely, K. A. Byrne, D. Wilson and E.-S. Tuittila. 2006. Estimating net ecosystem exchange in a patterned ecosystem: Example from blanket bog. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 138: 231-243


Renou, F., T. Egan and D. Wilson. 2006. Tomorrow's landscapes: studies in the after-uses of industrial cutaway peatlands in Ireland. Suo 57(4): 97-107.



Bullock, C 2005 The Benefits of Urban Green Space and the Built Environment. An Economic Perspective.  Journal of Applied Psychology 6 (3-4) PP25-32.



Müller, C., R.R. Sherlock, 2004. Nitrous oxide emissions from temperate grassland ecosystems in the northern and southern hemispheres. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 18, GB1045, doi:10.1029/2003GB002175.







Environmental Protection Agency


BOGLAND project

Bord na Móna

Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change

Irish Peatland Conservation Council 

National Parks and Wildlife Service  







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