Bog at UAFP
Turf Bank Closeup
Turf is partially rotted plant material. The dead plants do not fully decay due to the waterlogged conditions. Turf banks build up over hundreds of years.
Turf has been burnt as fuel in Ireland for well over one thousand years. By 1700 turf became the most important fuel as much of the forests had been cut down.
The bank is prepared for cutting by paring off the top sod of living vegetation. One man cuts the turf using a spade with an "L" shaped cutting edge. Normally two other men will load the turf onto two wheelbarrows and empty them onto a dry area of the bog. After 7-10 days, depending on the weather, the wet turf will develop a dry skin. This allows the wheelbarrow load to be spread over the ground. These turf will be turned over to allow all sides to dry". UAFP
The bogs have been played out over the years, and there are studies underway to consider other uses for this waterlogged land.
"There's more interest in protecting the bogs these days, than using them for other purposes. In the central area of Ireland Bord na Mona have been running a power station fuelled by peat for many years. These days most peat is not cut by hand, but by machine. One machine extrudes a long "sausage" of the peat from below the surface.See the image to the right. The land around the extrusion is ruined, although it is claimed that the sausage machines leave the top layers undamaged.
Another machine, the older type, strips the surface away, and then goes for the peat below. The land is left as a complete mess. Bord na Mona has tried planting trees on this land, but they don't do too well. Bogland is very wet and peat is very acid. The peat is made up of partly rotted remains of roots, flowers, stems, leaves, fruit, seeds and even pollen grains and spores. Peat is very wet. Oxygen is not very soluble in water. Light cannot penetrate through all this matter lying in the water, so photosynthesis (which produces oxygen) only occurs near the surface. Many aerobic microscopic organisms, such as fungi, bacteria protista, break down plant matter and help the process of decay. If there's little oxygen, there will be few of these organisms, and so decay can't take place.
Most plants can get no nourishment from such cold wet conditions. Bladderworts, sundews and butterworts are carniverous and catch flies to get their nutrients.
Another reason to preserve the bogs is that they can tell us lots about the history of an area. Since they form layer by layer as new organic matter falls on top of what is already there, and only a little of it decays, then there is a record of the landscape and animal life preserved in a bog. Pine stumps have been found standing where they grew 7,000 years ago. Also, they can tell of human occupation. In Belder Beg, North Mayo, a pre-bog farming settlement has been found dating back 5,000 years. A second lot of farmers came to the site 1,500 years after the first left. (Posts buried in the peat were able to be dated).
Many artifacts have been preserved in bogs, such as deerskin tunics, woolen clothing, coiled basketry bags. Some have been dug out and put on display years ago. However, if they can be studied in situ and related to other material at the same depth, then there is more chance of accurate dating.
However, peat contains a lot of organic matter, so when it is drained of moisture, allowing oxygen to penetrate, and mixed with "normal" soil it gives plant life good physical support and nutrients. The main use for peat these days is as a fertiliser or soil conditioner. Go to any garden centre, nursery, supermarket or petrol station and you can buy bags of peat for the gardener. Again, there's quite a movement away from these products in the last 10 years, to try to save the bogs, but it's only been partly successful.
More on Bord na Mona:
Bord na Mona was set up in 1946. Around two and a half million acres of the surface of Ireland (between 1/6 and 1/7 of the total area) was still covered in peat when it was first surveyed between 1809 and 1814. Bord na Mona's task was to drain about 1/10th of it "for the benefit of the nation". They built a complex of workshops, railways, peat-fired power stations and an international market. More than 100,000 acres were surveyed, negotiated, purchased and developed in the first 25 years. They responded to the oil crisis of the early 70s with their "Third Development Plan". It aimed to produce 6 million tonnes of milled peat annually, 70% for electricity and 30% for briquettes (home heating), 28 million cubic feet of moss peat (for garden fertilisers) and a maintained output of 0.9 million tonnes of sod peat at least up to the year 2000.Thanks to David McIlveen-White, Coleraine, NI
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