Letter to the editor: ‘Flooding – is bog restoration a way out?’

As the extensive flooding slowly recedes from farmland across Ireland and media coverage is consumed with the Covid-19 global pandemic, it’s important to remember that seasonal flooding is a problem that is not going to disappear.

Flooding is a multi-faceted problem; the amount of rainfall is not the only factor that needs to be considered. The type of land on which the rain falls and its capacity to store and manage the flow of water also impact the extent of flooding.

This problem is exacerbated by climate change. Ireland will experience more frequent heavy rainfall events in autumn and winter, with an increased number of drought periods during the summer months.

Farmers will be under increased pressure due to a reduced grazing season and will have to contend with a longer housing period for animals – due to over-saturated soil and poaching of fields.

What’s most effective?

The most effective flood defences are those that work with nature – through managing soil, wetland, woodlands and floodplains.

Slowing the flow of water from upland to lowland regions is vital to reduce the pressure in low-lying farms, homes and towns. However, this type of management requires ‘whole of catchment’ management.

Engagement would be required from every farmer and landowner in the region. If this type of management is successful then it benefits the wider community.

Restoring and conserving bogs will play a big part in any natural flood defence scheme. Bogs have the capacity to store vast amounts of water, which makes them a vital eco-system. They can help to buffer the worst of the impacts of climate change, including flooding and drought.

Draining bogs destroys the natural hydrology of these eco-systems – thus removing their ability to store water. However, re-wetting bogs can actually increase their ability to store water during extreme rainfall events.

‘Several projects’

There are several projects that are currently happening in Ireland that aim to conserve and restore bogs; yet communication from the state and the EU with landowners and farmers has, in some cases, been lacking.

To try and rectify this Ireland has been awarded €12 million by the EU for the LIFE-IP PAF Wild Atlantic Nature project.

Under this project funding from related schemes, including agri-environmental schemes, will be coordinated. This pooled money should result in a significant financial injection and employment opportunities in rural communities.

There will be compensation provided to farmers who are directly impacted by restoration work.

This project will focus on the protection and restoration of blanket bogs in the western and northern parts of the country – areas where farmers are most at risk from flooding.

Engaging with farmers and landowners will be a key part of this project. It is an opportunity for people impacted by flooding to make sure flood management is a key component of any restoration and conservation work that is carried out.

This work would include blocking drains to raise water levels and removing vegetation – such as conifers and the invasive rhododendron.

‘Working with nature’

Working with nature to alleviate flooding will be the most effective and cost-efficient flood management practice in the future.

While this will all take time to implement, work to restore and conserve functioning wetlands and bogs now may reduce the worst impacts of flooding in the years to come.

From Dr. Ciara Murphy, Co. Dublin