The Abbeyleix bog project picked up a national gong at the 2019 National Lottery Good Causes Awards recently, winning the heritage category.
Those involved in the Laois initiative were presented with the award at an event in the Clayton Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin.
The group, which included Chris Uys, received a cash prize of €10,000 towards its work, presented by the CEO of the Heritage Council of Ireland, Virginia Teehan. Chris said the accolade is an enormous boost for the rural group.
The award validates and acknowledges the work done by the Abbeyleix bog project, but, in general, also the important role that voluntary and community-led conservation play in respect of the natural environment.
There aren’t any definite or specific plans for the money as of yet, according to Chris. “That will be carefully considered, but most probably put towards capacity building among the volunteers involved in the project or leverage other funding for restoration and conservation work.”
The Abbeyleix bog project is a voluntary and community-led multi-stakeholder conservation project involving a natural heritage area of 200ha. The site consists of various habitats: raised bog; degraded raised bog; mineral fen; wet woodlands; mixed woodlands; and orchid-rich grassland.
Retired organic farmer Dick Wellwood from Ballinakill is a trustee of the project and regularly helps out with practical tasks.
“Recent jobs included bringing the tractor and the topper down and cutting back both sides of the old railway line which is the main walk area,” Dick said.
“During the summer, they wanted to skin off the top of clay there, so I brought down a digger. If there is rhododendron clearing to be done, I will do that. There is always work to be done.
“I have land adjoining the bog and I planted it 15 years ago with oak trees which will hopefully be my good deed for my lifetime,” said Dick.
The project came about in 2000 when the local community opposed the development of the site for horticultural peat production. Dialogue and pursuing a non-legal adversarial approach culminated in a 50-year lease agreement signed in 2009 between the community and Bord na Móna.
The primary objective is conservation through multi-level and multi-disciplinary stakeholder collaboration. Secondary is the provision of a community amenity for recreation, education and research in conjunction with a myriad of local, regional and national organisations.
Governance and management of the project is coordinated through the Abbeyleix bog project with a voluntary board of directors. Guiding the project objectives is a Conservation Management Plan (2015-2020), commissioned by Abbeyleix bog project through Heritage Council grant funding in 2014.
A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) advises or steers Abbeyleix bog project on best practice. TAG has representatives from the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS); Bord na Móna; Irish Peatland Conservation Council; and Laois County Council, as well as four community-nominated members. All aspects of the project are managed, coordinated and executed by volunteers.
The Abbeyleix bog project is a founder member of the Community Wetlands Forum (CWF), a national representative platform for community-led wetland conservation groups based on the principles of community development: empowerment; participation; inclusion; self-determination; and partnership.
In May 2017, the forum launched its strategic plan 2017-2020. Abbeyleix bog project was unanimously nominated as the host venue by its peers in the CWF. President Michael D Higgins delivered the keynote address at the event which drew a large turnout.
36 finalists from around the country gathered for the awards dinner hosted by broadcaster and journalist Grainne Seoige with support from social media influencer and presenter James Patrice.
Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, who presented the National Lottery Good Cause of the Year on the night, said: “Community is at the heart of all we do in Ireland and the inspiring National Lottery Good Causes Awards finalists have excelled in their use of good causes funds to benefit their localities and the wider society.
“Good causes funding has helped us build a better Ireland and has given communities opportunities they would not have had otherwise.“