National Garden Butterfly Survey 2022 Starts Now

Butterfly Conservation Ireland members and members of the public are invited to participate in Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s garden survey.  If you have been involved up to now, we’d love you to continue. The survey period runs from March to November inclusive. The survey form is available as a download from (see also below) and by post on request. The form asks you to record the first date each butterfly listed on the form was first recorded in their garden in each of the following three-month periods: March-May, June-August, and September-November. In a final column, the highest number of each butterfly species seen and the peak abundance date is given.

Finally, you are asked to indicate which of the following attractants are provided in their gardens: Buddleia, butterfly nectar plants other than Buddleia and larval food plants. Twenty butterflies are listed for recording. All Ireland’s butterflies can be seen by clicking on Gallery. Hover over each image for the species name.


At the end of the year, a report is made that comments on the flight season, outlines the status of these butterflies in gardens, offers interpretations and comments on the findings. The report concludes by urging conservation and involvement in recording garden butterflies. Last year’s report can be found in the Annual Report under Garden Survey Report:

Butterfly Conservation Ireland Annual Report 2021

The garden butterfly recording season begins in March. March 2022 has been cool, with sunshine and strong wind on some days and cloudy with heavy rain on others. We are not having an early season this year, unlike 2019 when the butterfly flight season began in earnest in mid-February, the records for which you can see here:

Spring Butterflies in the Garden

The second half of March is usually when we begin to see our butterflies and moths take flight, starting, in the case of butterflies with the four species that pass the winter in the adult stage: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma. This quartet is gradually becoming a quintet with the growing number of Red Admiral records early in the year. The Red Admiral might be passing the winter in Ireland mainly in the immature stages (egg, larva, and pupa) but adults have been found too, with these probably comprising long-lived over-winterers, arrivals from overseas using mild January weather to reach us, or home-grown newly emerged adults. We know that we are seeing breeding during the winter in the Red Admiral, while the faded condition of adults found early in the year suggests migrant or over-wintering butterflies.

If your garden is near the coast, especially the east and south coast, it is worth keeping an eye on your nettles for Red Admirals, even during the ‘off-season’ for butterflies, from November to February. Three decades ago, butterflies were very unlikely to be seen flying outdoors during winter. While this remains the case for most areas, especially inland, it is changing, probably because more people are looking out for butterflies and the climate is warming.

This is where the garden survey can help. Your garden adjoins your house so checking on how life is going on there is easy, even during winter and early spring. Pay heed to minutiae. A close inspection of the upper surface of a young, tender nettle leaf may reveal a green, ribbed, barrel-shaped Red Admiral or Comma butterfly egg. A perusal of ivy berries may register a Holly Blue caterpillar, even in December/January. Common Ivy growing on a south-facing wall can expedite the development of a Holly Blue caterpillar, so the beautiful adult may be seen basking in the spring sunshine on shiny ivy leaves in early March. Turn over a late turnip or cabbage leaf in December/January to see if a slow-growing Small White caterpillar is present. Check beneath sills to look for the Small and Large White pupae.

The onset of warmer, sunnier spring weather makes butterfly watching easier. Suburban and rural gardeners growing holly and ivy can expect first-generation Holly Blues from later in March to May/early June. Gardeners growing Cuckoo Flower, Jack-by-the-hedge/Garlic Mustard or Honesty may get Orange-tip, while nettle growers may be visited by the Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and even, if lucky, by the Comma.

Small White and Large White butterflies will be around too although these are more abundant in gardens and elsewhere in summer. The Speckled Wood is unique among our species in passing the winter either in the larva or pupa stage, and those that over-wintered as a pupa will be the earliest of their kind to fly, so gardens with native hedges and bordering grasses may see this lovely cream-dappled chocolate brown butterfly dancing around newly unfurled shrubbery.

Keep your eyes open for your garden butterflies and continue to record them for our garden survey. If you are not doing the survey, please join in! It’s a recording scheme available to all! The more, the better!

Here is the Garden Survey recording form:

National Garden Butterfly Survey

Best wishes to all butterfly gardeners!

Butterfly Conservation Ireland

A spring-generation female Holly Blue, from a garden in Clontarf, Dublin, about to lay an egg on the unopened flowers of a dogwood. J. Harding

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

The announcement on 6th March 2022 of a meeting between the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue and farming groups to take place on Tuesday 8th March to discuss food and animal feed security in the light of the ongoing war in Ukraine carries reminders of measures taken to feed the population of Éire during The Emergency, as World War II was known in southern Ireland during the years 1939-1945.

As such the Minister’s call has created a stir, adding foreboding to the general stress people are experiencing to see the war in Ukraine with its destruction and exodus of three million Ukrainians. President Vladimir Putin’s plan to achieve his objectives with minimal Ukrainian resistance and tokenistic responses from the western countries has not succeeded, and there may be a prolonged military conflict and a lengthy period of heightened international tensions. For everyone’s sake, let us hope this is not the case.

The implications for food production are rightly of concern to the Minister for Agriculture. Ukraine and southern Russia are the great wheat-growing areas in Europe. Without this wheat, we have shortages. Wheat is used for many foods, such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and as fillers in a range of foods. Wheat is used by industry to produce starch, paste, malt, dextrose, gluten, alcohol, vinegar and other products.

The financial sanctions applied against Russia may affect Russian wheat production by impacting commodities markets, with supply implications for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Food shortages in the latter two regions are likely to spark hunger, mass migration and political instability.

Because over 20% of the fertiliser used in Ireland comes from Russia, we are likely to see fertilisers rise in price. This will create the dual impacts of having to grow more wheat with increased applications of more expensive fertiliser. The connectedness of international trade means that events like the Russian attack on Ukraine and the international responses to the war will reverberate around the globe.

It is hard to see how wheat production in Ireland can be increased sufficiently, or that wheat quality can be raised. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), 393,000 tonnes of wheat was produced in 2020, down 38% on 2019. The area sown decreased by 16,500 hectares (-26%) and the yield decreased by 16.5%. Ireland is heavily reliant on imported grain. According to the data site, Ireland imported 2.12 million tonnes of cereals in 2020.

Many farmers lack the equipment and experience to grow cereals, and wet soils do not favour cereal crops, especially wheat. Fertilisers, already expensive will be more expensive with shortages and rising oil and gas prices, and all this while we are trying to reduce fertiliser inputs to reduce atmospheric, soil and water pollution associated with fertiliser use. Certain concentrations of fertiliser are toxic to insects, including butterflies.

In short, this war is a human nightmare and may become an environmental disaster.  It exemplifies the oft-quoted maxim, “Everything is connected to everything else.” Our response to the challenges posed by this conflict may mitigate some negative effects, and we suggest one way to minimise the impact on Ireland’s environment.

As a conservation organisation, we want the best outcomes for our environment and all living things. One simple step to mitigate the impact of any increase in land used for grain crops and any increase in the area where fertiliser is applied is to retain native hedgerows and maintain an extended field margin unplanted with crops and untreated with chemicals, adjoining hedgerows. These areas are vital for several animal groups and contain vital plant habitats.

Hedges are especially important for butterflies and moths. 65% of Irish butterflies use hedges. Some use hedgerow trees as breeding plants, some use grasses and flowers growing on the warm margins for breeding. In addition, many adult butterflies use hedges as territory, mating stations, nectar sources, flight paths, dispersal routes and hibernation sites. The Brimstone butterfly uses hedgerows for all these reasons, while the Brown Hairstreak uses hedges for breeding, meeting and mating, feeding and as a flight path.

The Brown Hairstreak relies on hedgerows and adjoining biodiverse grassland. Photo J. Harding

A study by Merckx et al. (2012) found the hedgerow trees and extended width margins locally increased the number of larger moth species (also known as macro-moths) but not abundance. Interestingly, they found that species richness and abundance was not affected by intensive farming, measured by the amount of arable land in the landscape. Both mobile and less mobile larger moths did better when extended width margins and hedgerow trees were present. The benefits of trees in the hedgerow were especially strong for tree-feeding species. Increasing the density of hedgerow trees was recommended to lessen the effects of agricultural intensification. The study underlined the value of hedgerow trees, claiming “a disproportionate effect on ecosystem functioning given the small area occupied by any individual tree”.

The study also found a link between increased macro moth populations and ecosystem functioning (in other words, the higher moth abundance and species richness improve biological community functioning). Why is this? Moths are associated with higher pollinator success, which benefits crops and animals, and moths are an important prey base for a range of species.

A study by Coulthard et al. (2016) showed that hedges are very important flight paths for moths. 68% of moths in the study were observed at 1m from the hedge and of these 69% were moving parallel to the hedge. Hedges are believed to provide the sheltered corridors needed by flying insects in our generally open, farmed landscapes.

These studies highlight how crucial hedgerows and hedgerow trees are for butterflies, moths and biodiversity generally. It is crucial that hedges are protected and correctly managed. A badly managed hedgerow can be disastrous for some of our rarer species. For example, many species that breed on hedges lay eggs on the newest growth. Unfortunately, it is this outer part of the hedge that is removed by cutting. The Brown Hairstreak butterfly is extremely vulnerable for this reason, and Berwearts and Merckx (2010) report studies that found that annual mechanical cutting of hedges removes 80-99% of Brown Hairstreak eggs. A rotational cutting system that involves cutting one-third of the hedgerows in an area each winter resulted in the butterfly’s longer-term survival.

Our native hedges are crucial to our landscapes, giving our countryside character, building a sense of place, and hosting much biodiversity. The poet William Wordsworth described the hedgerows as “Little lines of sportive wood run wild.” Our hedgerows need to be valued, respected and maintained if the biodiversity remaining on farmland is to be preserved.

With their bird song, butterflies and flowers, hedges evoke a joyful atmosphere, and the peace we can all do with.

Hedgerows consisting of native trees, shrubs and herbs are a vital landscape feature and crucial for biodiversity in modern farmed landscapes. Photo J. Harding


Central Statistics Office 2020, Area, Yield and Production of Crops, Central Statistics Office,  Accessed 06/03/2021,

Coulthard, E., McCollin, D. & Littlemore, J. 2016, “The use of hedgerows as flight paths by moths in intensive farmland landscapes”, Journal of insect conservation, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 345-350.

Cross, J. (2012) Ireland’s Woodland Heritage A Guide to Ireland’s Native Woodlands National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin. 2020, Ireland – Wheat imports quantity, Accessed 06/03/2021,,255%2C103%20thousand%20tonnes%20in%202020.

Mag Raollaigh, J., Minister to discuss food security with farming groups in light of Ukraine conflict Accessed 06/03/2021

Lysaght, L., Marnell, F., National Biodiversity Data Centre (Ireland) & Global Biodiversity Information Facility 2016, Atlas of mammals in Ireland, 2010-2015, National Biodiversity Data Centre, Carriganore, Waterford;Place of publication not identified;.

MERCKX, T. & BERWAERTS, K. 2010, “What type of hedgerows do Brown hairstreak (Thecla betulae L.) butterflies prefer? Implications for European agricultural landscape conservation”, Insect conservation and diversity, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 194-204.

Merckx, T., Marini, L., Feber, R.E., Macdonald, D.W., Kleijn, D. & Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet 2012, “Hedgerow trees and extended-width field margins enhance macro-moth diversity: implications for management”, The Journal of applied ecology, vol. 49, no. 6, pp. 1396-1404.

Sullivan, M.J.P., Pearce‐Higgins, J.W., Newson, S.E., Scholefield, P., Brereton, T., Oliver, T.H. & McKenzie, A. 2017, “A national‐scale model of linear features improves predictions of farmland biodiversity”, The Journal of applied ecology, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 1776-1784.

This article was edited on March 20th 2022 to update the refugee figure which stood at 3 million on March 20th.

Lullybeg Management Day 26th February

After two weather-related postponements, we finally met at Lullybeg to work on a section of the southern section of the reserve.  It was a grey-skied day suitably supported by a stiff chilling breeze but our work site provided shelter from its effects.

We choose an area that contains Common Dog-violet, Devil’s-bit Scabious, Purple Moor-grass, and various mosses. The area is used by the Dark Green Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary for breeding and we caught our first sighting of Marsh Fritillary larvae this year, on a scabious leaf that faces south. This gave our work added impetus because birch saplings were working their way into this breeding area.

We uprooted hundreds of birch saplings and some young willow, carefully replanting any herbs disturbed by our work. There is something strangely satisfying, even during winter, at seeing the pile of saplings rise and the grassland become free of shading scrub.

We took a break for lunch, sheltering near our vehicles and catching up with each others’ news. Our prandial discourse was enlivened by a fierce altercation between two large mink, squealing and scrapping in the tall grasses. One ran out of cover so we got a full view of this beautiful yet invasive and destructive predator.

We resumed our work and cleared the work zone. We look forward to seeing how our butterflies respond in the coming months.

Thanks to all those who attended and to all our members and supporters.

Marsh Fritillary larvae on our work area. Photo J. Harding
Cleared grassland at Lullybeg. Photo J. Harding

The Marvels of Bogs and the Future of Bord na Móna Bogs

One hectare of undisturbed raised bog stores around 3,000 tonnes of carbon. This is 10 times the equivalent area of rainforest. The total carbon stored in Irish bogs is about 2.22 billion tonnes. Half of that amount is contained in the few undisturbed bogs and bogs that were cut only at the edges. However, drained bogs release carbon (Renou-Wilson et al). For example, degradation switches peatlands from being carbon stores and sinks to carbon sources, and estimates indicate that degraded peatlands will contribute 8% of the global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2050 (Urák et al. 2017). In addition, degradation results in reduced water quality, changes in regulation
of water flow and loss of biodiversity (Martin-Ortega et al. 2014, 2021).

According to a recent paper ( doi: 10.1111/rec.13632 ) peatland restoration, and wetland restoration in general, is viewed as a cost-effective nature-based solution, assisting in the conservation of wetland habitats, while also serving to reduce negative trends in ecosystem services (Bonn et al. 2016; Maes et al. 2020). Ireland is a global hotspot for peatlands, with over 20% of the national territory covered by peatland or peat soils (Connolly & Holden 2009). Conversion of peatlands to other land uses (agriculture, conifer plantation and/or peat extraction) ongoing since the 18th Century has been one of the main pressures resulting in drainage and loss of typical peatland vegetation. Combined with additional pressures, including overgrazing, burning, recreational use, and the development of renewable energy infrastructure (solar and wind farms), these activities have resulted in the overall degradation of more than 80% of Irish peatland ecosystems (Connolly 2019). All peatland types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive are considered to be of unfavourable-bad conservation status since the start of reporting in 2007 (NPWS 2019).

The authors of this study developed a risk register for peatlands in two contrasting catchments in Ireland, based on available information relating to peatland stocks (extent and condition) and flows (services and benefits) as well as knowledge of pressures.  One of these areas is the peatlands in northwest Kildare, which includes Lullymore and Lullybeg. This approach allowed for the identification of areas to target peatland restoration, by highlighting the potential to reduce and reverse negative trends in relation to provisioning, regulating and cultural services, flows relating to non-use values, as well as abiotic flows (such as drinking water). The authors also highlighted ways to reduce and reverse the effects of historical and ongoing pressures through restoration measures, aligning their approach with that outlined in the SER International Principles and Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration.

The drive towards peatland restoration is being applied by the state through Bord na Móna. The aim of the Peatlands Climate Action Scheme (PCAS) being implemented by Bord na Móna on about 33,000 hectares of its landholding is to optimise climate action benefits of rewetting the former industrial peat production areas by creating soggy peatland conditions that will allow compatible peatland habitats to redevelop. The scheme follows the announcement by Bord na Móna of the cessation of peat production on all their bogs. Under the Integrated Pollution Control Licence issued to Bord na Móna by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bord na Móna is obliged under Condition-10 of this licence, to decommission and rehabilitate bogs when industrial peat production ceases.

In line with Bord na Móna’s accelerated decarbonisation strategy, and the availability of government funding, the company has also committed to ambitious enhanced peatland decommissioning, rehabilitation and restoration measures, targeting circa 33,000 hectares in over 80 Bord na Móna bogs. These measures are currently underway on several of their bogs, such as Castlegar Bog, County Galway, Belmont Bog, County Offaly and Clooniff Bog, County Roscommon.

Among the rehabilitation goals and outcomes on many of these bogs, including Garryduff Bog, County Galway is optimising hydrological conditions for the further development of wetland, Reed swamp, wet woodland, fen habitats and embryonic Sphagnum-rich peatland communities on shallow cutaway peats, along with management of existing wetlands.

Rehabilitation will support the National Policies on Climate Action and Greenhouse gas mitigation by maintaining and enhancing the current residual peat storage capacity of the bog (locking the carbon into the ground).

It is expected that the bog will have reduced emissions (reduced source) as it develops naturally functioning wetland and peatland habitats. It will also support Ireland’s commitments towards Water Framework Directive and the National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021.

While climate action is the main objective of the rehabilitation measures, the plan expects the measures to support biodiversity.

Enhanced rehabilitation measures, which go beyond Bord na Móna’s obligations under its EPA licence, are being carried out under the PCAS scheme. On Garryduff Bog these measures, which are like those on other bogs, are drain blocking, building berms and re-profiling of the peat surface to slow water movement and retain water, turning off or reducing pump use, blocking outfalls, planting sphagnum, planting reeds, seeding of areas of bare peat slow to recover vegetation. The rehabilitation plans are adjusted to consider the biodiversity that has developed on some areas of the cutaway bog such as the presence of sensitive ground-nesting bird breeding species (e.g., breeding waders) or larval webs of Marsh Fritillary butterfly and to avoid damaging archaeology and flooding of adjoining land.

Post-rehabilitation monitoring is planned to determine the effectiveness of the measures applied, and interventions will be undertaken if needed.

In relation to Garryduff Bog, which is close to several protected sites, the future looks positive. The Rehabilitation plan states:

Any consideration of any other future after-uses for Garryduff Bog, such as amenity, will be conducted in adherence to the relevant planning guidelines and consultation with relevant authorities and will be considered within the framework of this rehabilitation plan.

 This statement occurs in the rehabilitation plans for other Bord Móna bogs.

However, the measures will not restore the sites to undisturbed raised bog within our lifetime. The development of active raised bogs occurs over a period greater than 1000 years, and Bord na Móna estimates that it will take 30-50 years for naturally functioning peatland ecosystems to re-establish.

It is vital that these bogs be allowed to recover so that the peat holds instead of releasing carbon, improves rather than damages water quality, gains and retains instead of losing biodiversity, and it is vital that the few undamaged bogs remain uncut.

It is not easy to put the jigsaw back together when it takes so long to find regenerate the lost pieces.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland along with six other environmental organisations is pressing for the bogs in northwest Kildare referenced in doi: 10.1111/rec.13632   to be declared a national park. These bogs have not been included in PCAS but hold exceptional biodiversity, and currently have five nature reserves, including Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s Crabtree Reserve. For more information on this initiative, go to

The Green Hairstreak is a butterfly that occurs mainly on wet peatland habitats. Photo J. Harding.


Bonn A., Allott T, Evans M, Joosten H, Stoneman R (2016) Peatland restoration and ecosystem services: an introduction. In: Bonn A, Allot T, Evans M, Joosten J, Stoneman R (eds) Peatland restoration and ecosystem services: science, policy and practice. Cambridge University Press, pp.1-16

Connolly J, Holden NM (2009) Mapping peat soils in Ireland: updating the derived Irish peat map. Irish Geography 42: 343-352

doi: 10.1111/rec.13632

Martin-Ortega J, Allott TH, Glenk K, Schaafsma M (2014) Valuing water quality improvements from peatland restoration: Evidence and challenges. Ecosystem Services 9: 34‑43.

NPWS (2019) The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland. Volume 1: Summary Overview. NPWS. URL:

Renou-Wilson, F. (n.d.). Peatland Properties Influencing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removal. [online] County Wexford: EPA. Available at: [Accessed 15 Feb. 2022].

Urák I, Hartel T, Gallé R, Balog A (2017) Worldwide peatland degradations and the related carbon dioxide emissions: the importance of policy regulations. Environmental Science & Policy 69: 57-64.



Butterfly Conservation Ireland Annual Report 2021

The Butterfly Conservation Ireland Annual Report 2021 is now published.  It is available on this site under the Report tab.

It is available in hard copy format to non-members for €8. If you are not a member of Butterfly Conservation Ireland and would like a copy, contact us by email for details.

A special thanks to everyone who contributed to the report.

Enjoy the report.

Striped Hawkmoth. Photo Philip Strickland.

Butterflies discussed on RTE Radio

Great to see Ireland’s butterflies get attention on Ireland’s national media.

Mooney Goes Wild: January 10th 2022. Listen from 6:00

Mooney Goes Wild: January 31st 2022Listen from 33:30

Painted Lady migration was described in the Mooney Goes Wild show on January 10th. J. Harding.



A new book on Ireland’s butterflies is available now.

A review of the book is available in The Irish Times.

Please note the correct contact email for the author:

The Irish Times review is here:

The often mysterious behaviour of Ireland’s butterflies is explored in this book.

Why do some female Speckled Woods flaunt themselves at males, while other female Speckled Woods behave so evasively? Can Brimstone butterflies forecast the weather? How do male Small Coppers react to persistent attacks from larger males? Why do Small Tortoiseshells enter hibernation in mid-summer in areas as far apart as Dublin and Donegal, months before they hibernate in other places nearby?

How does the male Green-veined White react when he faces a highly competitive mating environment? Do social caterpillars cannibalise? Why do male Brown Hairstreaks ignore females after 11 am? Why do we never see Painted Ladies leave Ireland during autumn?  Why do some male butterflies check caterpillar foodplants? Is the warming climate making life easier or harder for Ireland’s butterflies?

The culmination of over 25 years of study and thousands of records, THE IRISH BUTTERFLY BOOK  documents the full life cycle of every Irish butterfly from egg to adult butterfly and includes over 400 original colour photographs. There are one or more photos for each life stage of every species making this book the first of its kind.

Among the contents of this book are:

· Butterfly ecology

· Gardening advice

· Butterfly life cycles and behaviour

· A site guide detailing the best places in Ireland to see butterflies

THE IRISH BUTTERFLY BOOK also has its own YouTube channel (linked to within the book) where you can enjoy film footage of Ireland’s butterflies.

Beautifully presented and designed, with a large font size and accessible text, this book is a great addition to the Irish wildlife bibliography.

“It’s a book full of knowledge, from Harding’s own painstaking observation and also new lepidopteral research. Most people are content just to have a name for a butterfly, but his essays on each species open up fresh worlds of interest, observation and mystery.” Michael Viney, Irish Times Review, January 2022.

Available directly from the author. ISBN 978-0-9560546-1-6. Softback. Full-colour printing, 328 pages. €35 inclusive of postage within Ireland.


Book Sample Pages

Text and photographs © J. Harding



Slow learners

The Dáil (the lower house of the Irish parliament, directly elected by the electorate) declared a biodiversity and climate crisis in May 2019. At the time, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan welcomed the development, but warned that “declaring an emergency means absolutely nothing unless there is action to back it up. That means the Government having to do things they don’t want to do”.

The declaration of the crisis was initiated by Fianna Fáil and supported by the government.

Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, welcomed the outcome as “an important statement” but added, “now we need action.”

She said Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton would speedily return to the Dáil with new proposals, and she looked forward to working “with all parties and none” to scrutinise them.

Some important measures have been taken. It could be argued that the most significant is the decision by Bord na Móna to cease peat extraction in 2020, having scaled back peat extraction in 2019. This decision was followed by a government decision on November 24th, 2020 to fund peatland restoration on state-owned bogs in the Bord na Móna landholding. This involves re-wetting bogs to attempt habitat restoration and climate change combatting, with re-wetting creating conditions to capture CO2 and NO2.

The cynics among us may say this positive decision was in fact forced upon us. In 2019 the High Court made a decision that effectively ended large-scale peat extraction.  The Court held that a dual consenting system for large-scale peat extraction was required and that such sites could not be exempt under planning laws. For sites over 30 hectares, planning permission is needed including an environmental impact assessment. In addition, the development needs to be licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency and have an integrated pollution control licence.

Many sites, including some held by Bord na Móna, have had peat removed without any planning consent. This has led to Bord na Móna applying for retrospective planning consent, known as substitute consent.

There are other pressures that forced the Irish Government to end peat extraction, including pressure from the EU, the success of the Green Party in the last general election and the programme for government.

However, these measures have not ended the tragedy of peatland destruction. Central Statistics Office data obtained by Friends of the Irish Environment show that 1,419,624 tonnes of peat have been exported from the State between the beginning of 2020 and now, a multiple of what has been imported. Large-scale illegal peat extraction is taking place in plain sight throughout Ireland, which I have seen, photographed and reported to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Bord na Móna. This activity is even taking place on Ireland’s special sites, designated as Special Areas of Conservation and National Heritage Areas.

Some politicians, in particular, Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty and Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher, want to exempt peat extraction from planning controls and have published The Horticultural Peat Bill 2021. (The Senate is the upper house in the parliamentary system in the Republic of Ireland, it is weaker than the Dáil and does not have veto powers ). This Bill proposes to overturn the 2019 High Court ruling to allow peat extraction up to 2030 at least.

Their pretext is that Ireland is importing peat from Latvia and Sri Lanka but the amount of peat we are exporting dwarfs the amount imported. Furthermore, we should not import or export peat if we are serious about addressing the biodiversity and climate crisis.

If appropriately restored and revitalised, our peatlands can more dynamically support Ireland’s climate and biodiversity ambitions while highlighting Ireland’s unique natural peatland habitats. As a first step, our view is that Bord na Móna should commit to rewet the landmass to arrest the further loss of greenhouse gasses from the exposed peatland and commence the process of carbon storage and sequestration. This will provide measurable results assisting Ireland’s interim targets of 7% year-on-year carbon reduction.

The “Smart Bogs” project under the EPA already gives us data on carbon flux and on which decisions on land use for carbon sequestration and storage can be made. The UN Climate Panel’s 6th Assessment Report published on 9 August 2021 confirms the value of peatlands for carbon storage, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. (The 6th Assessment Report Ch 5. States, “Peatlands are less extensive than forests, croplands and grazing lands, yet per unit area, they hold high carbon stocks (Griscom et al., 2017).)

Furthermore, the government’s commitment to designate 30% of land for biodiversity can be substantially achieved by reprofiling our peatlands for nature. The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 calls for the strict protection of carbon-rich ecosystems such as peatlands.

We also insist on strict enforcement of planning controls and an end to exports and imports of peat. We have no desire to see Latvia’s or Sri Lanka’s ecosystems destroyed to provide peat for mushroom growing and garden centres. In a recent assessment, it was estimated that, globally, natural peatlands are being destroyed at a rate of 4,000 km2/year (Parish et al., 2007). People have commonly treated peatlands as wastelands, using them in many destructive ways, without taking the long-term environmental and related socio-economic impacts into account.

The destruction of large areas of European peatlands in the past is repeating itself in the 21st century in developed countries: in Southeast Asia up to 70% of the tropical peat swamp forests have been significantly degraded and natural peatlands in southern and eastern Africa are under severe threat of conversion and degradation (CC-GAP, 2005). Since peatlands constitute habitats of unique flora and fauna which contribute significantly to the gene pool, the loss of peatlands in Ireland equates to loss of biodiversity at regional, national and international levels.

To conclude, consider this fact from the Environmental Protection Agency on the role of peatlands in the climate crisis context:

In light of future climate change, the most important function of peatlands in the 21st century is that of a carbon store and sink. Covering only about 3% of the Earth’s land area, they hold the equivalent of half of the carbon that is in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) (Dise, 2009). It is estimated that the carbon stored in peatlands represents some 25% of the world soil carbon pool (i.e. 3–3.5 times the amount of carbon stored in the tropical rainforests (Parish et al., 2007)).

Do not buy peat for your fireplace, garden and do not buy plants or mushrooms grown in peat. Demand alternatives. Let our politicians know that you want a future that includes a biodiverse world and a stable climate. Speak up, they’ll have to listen.


Brave New World

Anyone who consumes any form of media cannot escape the word environment or the words climate change. International conferences, protest movements, media reports of extreme weather events, environmental damage, extinction threats, pollution, pandemic diseases sweep across the media in a deluge of fear and paranoia. The front page of the digital copy of today’s (Monday 8th November) Irish Times has five environmental stories, one on The Guardian, three on the International news page of The Times of Malta, five on the BBC news page, three on the Reuters Breaking International News page. You get the picture.

Corporations are lining up to tell us how committed they are to environmentally responsible behaviour. Car manufacturers promote the environmental credentials of their vehicles. Toyota tells us they are committed to sustainability:

Sustainability is fundamental to how we do business at Toyota as expressed in our 2011 Global Vision. We aim to deliver products and services that respect the planet and enrich the lives of people in the communities where we operate. In 2015, we announced the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 to move toward a society where people, cars, and nature can coexist in harmony (note the components of Toyota’s ecosystem). The six challenges are set to go beyond zero environmental impact, hoping to even achieve a net positive impact. (

Cadbury tells us their cocoa is 100% sustainably sourced (, Lindt promise they will”source all cocoa products (beans, butter, powder) through sustainability programs by 2025″ (  Nestlé makes claims for their impact “guided by our three global ambitions: to support children, develop communities and preserve the planet for the future” (

In short, many are ‘getting in on the act’. ‘Greenness’ is the new moral code. The main Christian churches in Ireland have formed Eco-Congregation Ireland which “encourages churches of all denominations to take an eco approach to worship, lifestyle, property and finance management, community outreach and contact with the developing world”. Eco-congregation Ireland “ask(s) Christians everywhere to reflect on the beauty of God’s world and to consider what practical steps can be taken to prevent further damage to the environment. Also, to pray for our wounded planet, for people in the developing world already affected by climate change and for future generations” (

There is little doubt that the focus on the environment reflects the situation we are in. Throughout the world, the ravages of our impact resonate in statistics on the state of our planet’s wildlife.

One of the big issues to be addressed is emissions from the transport sector. The British Government has announced a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will begin in 2030. The Irish Government offers grants to make electric vehicles, which are considerably pricier than equivalent petrol and diesel models, more affordable.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the way to go? According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, energy breakdown by fuel measured by ktoe (defined as the amount of energy released by burning one tonne (1000 Kilograms) of crude oil) shows that only 10% was derived from renewables (2018 figures). The rest was obtained by burning fossil fuels ( data/gclid=Cj0KCQiAsqOMBhDFARIsAFBTN3cAC7WUCLI-v7qownEoQFVf3ZIziG18uUxqkeF84VLY2NfQLTSD1ysaAm3tEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds).

Nearly 80% was derived from oil and natural gas. Electricity generated from these sources is used to power electric vehicles. This is hardly the way to lower CO2 emissions.

Added to that smokescreen are the environmental damage and negative socio-economic consequences that arise from mining lithium and cobalt used for EV batteries and one wonders whether electric vehicles really are the answer to emissions produced by the transport sector and the broader challenges faced by the environment.

At present, almost every ounce of battery-grade lithium used in Europe and Ireland is imported. More than half (55%) of global lithium production last year originated in Australia. Other principal suppliers, such as Chile (23%), China (10%), and Argentina (8%), are equally far-flung. The energy source used to get it to Europe has an environmental cost. But there are many others.

San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, near the Andean salt flats, lies on the westernmost point of a mining area that spreads north across the Atacama Desert to Bolivia and east into Argentina. Fifty times drier than California’s Death Valley, the area’s parched surface conceals an underworld rich in minerals. Historically, mining companies have exploited its lucrative deposits of copper and, to a lesser extent, iodine and nitrates. By some estimates, it also contains as much as half the world’s lithium reserves.

Here the lithium is dissolved in subterranean saltwater. Above this layer of saltwater is clean water. The mining involves pumping out the brine and letting it evaporate on the surface. This interference with the aquifer, scientists believe, is increasing desertification. They point to crop failures, declining flora and fauna, and diminishing pastures as evidence of the environmental damage wrought by lithium mining. There is also a fear of contamination of the clean water above the brine layer.

The behaviour of mining companies in poorer countries leaves much to be desired. Mining interests helped to destroy the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), stoking up tribal rivalries (the DCR has over 200 tribes) and fuelling civil war following the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960. The Anglo-Belgian firm, Union Miniere Haut Katanga was heavily involved in fomenting the collapse of the new state. In 2011, an allegation was made that the mining interests were involved in killing UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold whose plane was allegedly shot down or deliberately sabotaged in the Congo (

The DRC has Africa’s largest rainforest but it is being destroyed by mining, among other causes. The behaviour of Chinese state-owned companies in the DRC, where a deal was signed in 2008 to mine copper and cobalt in return for infrastructure investment has been roundly criticised, especially a 2017 agreement to speed up payments to the Chinese and slow down infrastructure reimbursement (

There are many easily found examples of corrupt activities by mining companies. Some of the more responsible ones engage the services of social scientists to research, in advance of operations, the impact of mining operations on local people. Laudable, you may think, but is it? Corporate social responsibility can be valuable only when genuinely respectful of local people and their environment.

However, according to the OECD, 1 in 5 foreign bribery cases involves the extractive industry. The International Monetary Fund singles out mining as a priority sector for transparency efforts. These are needed. According to a study published in 2002,

By and large, encounters between indigenous peoples and the mining industry result in loss of sovereignty for traditional landholders and multidimensional creation of new forms of poverty imposed upon already poor people. This new poverty is created by a failure to avoid or mitigate impoverishment risks that accompany mining development. Indigenous peoples are suffering a loss of land, short and long-term health risks, loss of access to common resources, homelessness, loss of income, social disarticulation, food insecurity, loss of civil and human rights, and spiritual uncertainty.  (

We need to be cautious about accepting the panaceas offered to tackle global climate change. It may be the case that the poorer south suffers a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change and the efforts to address it.

Work Day Report

The days immediately before October 30th saw heavy rain but the appointed day was bright, sunny, dry, and even warm.

Our enthusiasm brightened by the conditions, we tacked willow re-growth and birch saplings on the southern side of BCI’s reserve at Lullybeg. This herb-rich area contains Common Dog-violet, Common Milkwort, Common Valerian, Devil’s-bit Scabious, Cuckoo-flower,  Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Tormentil, vetches, and a range of grasses, all important features for moths and butterflies.

This area is used for breeding by two rare moths, Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet and Small Purple-barred, and a threatened butterfly, the Dark Green Fritillary. The main challenges to the habitat on Lullybeg Reserve are the growth of willow and birch which, if left untackled, will change the habitat from species-rich wet grassland to scrub and eventually woodland. While these habitats are important for other species, these habitats are very well represented on the site and in the general area.

Thanks to the wet peat soils and their shallow roots, the birch saplings were easy to uproot. The willow needed to be cut back and uprooted applying more force and all the plants were placed in piles and later moved into an area of dense scrub to leave the grassland clear.

We took a break for lunch and basked in the late autumn sun, which beamed warmly on us and our conversations. We managed to see a few late insects, including a late Small Tortoiseshell, a few micro-moths, including Acleris notana, a species that breeds on birch and hibernates as an adult moth. Three dragonflies, Black and Common Darter and Migrant Hawker were spotted, their gauzy wings gleaming in the sharp, shallow autumn light.

By the time we finished our work, a large amount of open grassland was achieved. We found some Common Dog-violet plants with mature leaves showing feeding damage, probably from Dark Green Fritillary caterpillars earlier in the year. Thanks to our work, the plants remain unshaded and available for the next generation which we hope to see flying next June.

A very special thanks to all who worked so hard to keep the habitat in the best condition for our reserve’s butterflies.

This Common Darter basked on a lopper until the sun warmed him enabling flight.
A late Ruby Tiger caterpillar. This caterpillar will hibernate and wake in spring to bask on dry grass.
Acleris notana is a micro-moth that uses birch as a breeding plant. The adult moth hibernates and breeds in spring.
Acleris hastiana, Lullybeg Reserve. This moth breeds on willows and it hibernates as an adult moth. Photo Paul Mapplebeck.
This area of grassland was cleared of much of the encroaching scrub, but there is more work needed to improve the condition of the grassland.