BOGFOR RESEARCH PROGRAMME
A Research Programme on the Afforestation of Industrial Cutaway Peatlands in Ireland
Mr Michael Lynch (COFORD Chairman), Dr Florence Renou-Wilson, Prof. Ted Farrell, Mr Gerry McNally and Dr Michael Keane, at the launch of the BOGFOR Final Report (8 June 2008), published by Coford. Click here to access report.
BOGFOR Senior Committee: Dr Florence Renou-Wilson (Project Manager), Prof. E. P. Farrell (Project Leader), Dr. Michael Keane (Coillte), Mr. Gerry McNally (Bord na Mona), Mr. John O'Sullivan (Coillte) and Seamus Dunne (Forest Service).
Peatlands in Ireland cover approximately 1.34 million hectares and are extensively utilised for agriculture, forestry and peat production. 80,000 hectares of peatlands are currently being developed by Bord na Móna for peat extraction (electricity, peat briquettes and horticultural peat) and will gradually come out of production over the next 20 to 30 years. It is expected that circa 50,000 ha of cutaway peatlands could become available for afforestation. For this afforestation scheme to succeed, the Forest Ecosystem Research Group, Bord na Móna and Coillte Teoranta have pooled their knowledge to carry out research studies, the results of which will assist the Forest Service in drafting a Code of Best Forest Practice for the successful establishment of forest plantations on cutaway peatland.
Large scale afforestation of industrial cutaway bogs (residues of Bord na Móna fuel harvesting operations) began in 1988. At the end of 1988 and the beginning of 1989, Bord na Móna made available approximately 1000 ha of cutaway bog to Coillte Teoranta for afforestation. Since then, Coillte Teoranta have planted a further 3000 ha.
Despite the obvious potential of the cutaway peatlands for forestry, to date, their afforestation has not been a commercial success. An intensive survey of Coillte Teoranta plantations on Bord na Móna cutaway bogs in the midlands (3000 ha) was carried out by the Forest Ecosystem Research Group, UCD, in May-August 1994 (BOGFOR 1 Project). The results of the survey indicated that only a small percentage of the stands assessed were growing satisfactorily. The remaining stands had either failed or were suffering from some form of environmental stress such as frost, which reduced the productivity and commercial viability of the tree crop.
Approximately 10% of the original 1994 plots located on milled-cutaway peatland in the midlands were re-assessed in July-August 1997 (BOGFOR 2 Project). The health and productivity in the majority of the re-assessed plots had deteriorated in the period between the two surveys. The optimistic yield class predictions of the late eighties for plantations established on cutaway bog, were based on research carried out on sod-cutaway bog. Large scale afforestation of milled-cutaway bog was initiated without adequate research into establishment and management techniques being carried out on this particular site type. Since 1988, the small number of Coillte field trials set-up on milled-cutaway peatland have yielded very little additional information. Coillte have invested a significant amount of money in leasing and planting 3000 ha of Bord na Móna land in the midlands.
In March 1998, a major research programme was initiated in order to ensure that further investment will yield a satisfactory return. BOGFOR 3 Project aims to address the problems of the cutaway bogs and to develop a new approach to their afforestation and subsequent management. Phase I (1998-1999) was successfully completed with the financial help from the Forest Service and Coford (NDP). Coford's funding of the BOGFOR 3 Phase II came to an end during 2003 but Coillte and Bord na Móna. are continuing to fund this project under BOGFOR IV to its completion in December 2005. Coford renewed their funding in 2004 and specific work has been carried out under BOGFOR V. The BOGFOR V project was completed in December 2006 with the complition of a FINAL REPORT. This report is currently being reviewed by COFORD for publication later in 2007.
A BOGFOR poster is available here: BOGFORposter.pdf. It summarises how the many aspects of cutaway peatland forestry are inter-related and require a multi-pronged research approach in order to develop sound silvicultural practices for this type of land. While the project has yielded useful results to date, long-term monitoring and additional studies will be required to maximise the benefit from this research. It is only sensible to put sufficient effort into basic as well as applied research to maintain the ability to produce answers in the context of future political and economical circumstances which cannot be predicted.