Multidisciplinary methods to monitor and manage blanket bogs

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment

Abstract

Globally peatlands cover an area of around 4 million km2 however this figure is rapidly declining as a result of agricultural intensification over the last 200 years. We now recognise peatlands as significant global carbon stores that also provide important ecosystem services, such as atmospheric pollutant interception and water storage as well flood prevention. Degraded peatlands produce low quality water, which is not only expensive to treat but also produces potentially toxic by-products during treatment. Protecting and restoring the blanket bog catchments that store the water before it reaches the reservoir can significantly reduce water treatment costs. One such highly protected location of international importance where restoration efforts are being put into place is the Garron Plateau blanket bog. It is the largest (4,650ha ~5.9x106 tons of carbon), most intact area of blanket bog in Northern Ireland.

We have applied a multidisciplinary approach to assess the rates of decomposition, water movement and vegetation change across active, degraded and restored blanket bog locations. These include analysing the organic composition and stable isotopic signature (C,N,O,H) of the peat and surrounding porewater, as well as performing a series of geophysical (resistivity, induced polarisation) and geochemical techniques to determine substrate quality and peatland health.

The RSPB with Northern Ireland Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency want to develop a Conservation Action Plan for 2017/2018 to restore the quality of the habitat at the Garron blanket bog catchment and across several similar sites. Much of the work to date focuses solely on ecological indicators of peatland quality. I intend to work with the RSPB and their partners to help develop a holistic, novel multidisciplinary approach to monitor the effectiveness of peatland restoration, based on the scientific knowledge I have gained on the site throughout my PhD. As part of this plan, RSPB are required to show the effects of their restoration over a 5 year period. The scientific knowledge from myself would help create a temporal sampling and analysis plan to quantify these changes for RSPB.

The scientific evidence of the effects of the restoration can then effectively be reported and published to industrial, government and NGO bodies to inform policy and promote the use of peatlands to produce high quality drinking water, reducing treatment costs and the associated potentially toxic by-products created during treatment. This policy will not only be communicated to the public and interested parties but also to the Utility Regulator who ultimately determines the Price Control process and determines the financial framework that can be put into developing and implementing sustainable catchment practices.

I will work primarily at the main RSPB office in Belvoir Park, Belfast and when necessary, the offices at Portmore Lough and will regularly travel to site at the Garron Plateau. I have already built a good relationship with other SCAMP NI partners e.g. Roy Taylor Catchment Manager of Northern Ireland Water (who owns the land at the Garron Site) and Dr James Warnock Senior Scientific Officer of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (who has previously undertaken ecological sampling).

Throughout the project I will work within a team of RSPB conservationists, scientists, managers and policy makers. These include Seamus Burns - Lough Neagh Area Manager, Darren Houston - Garron project manager, John Martin - Land use Policy Officer, Kendrew Colhoun - Conservation Scientists. This Area Delivery Group are focused on the Garron SCAMP project and formally meet every six weeks. They will provide project management oversight and mentoring for myself throughout the placement and I will receive training in policy development and public and industry communication that I would not get through academic experience alone.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Through this funding I have found that by combining geochemical (FTIR, GCxGC-FID and stable isotope analysis) and geophysical methods (ERT and IP) one can effectively determine and map subsurface peatland degradation and restoration. I have determined that in a sort time period (two years), the effects of restoration can be identified. I have also determined that although water quality improves two years post restoration (TOC, colour and turbidity), the organic composition of organic material in the water changes, complicating water treatment costs through the increase in production of Disinfection By-Products (DBPs) (i.e. Trihalomethanes (THMs)) and increased chemical use.
Exploitation Route The research on the Garron Plateau restoration has been published (DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.300) and has recently been submitted for publication ('The impact of restoration of drained blanket bog on raw water quality' - Journal of Environmental Management), making it available for research on similar sites. The work has also been promoted on RTE's 'Eco-Eye' television series with the aim of using the positive outcomes of restoration methods on water quality, carbon storage and habitat improvements to be used on other similar sites. The Garron Plateau restoration project was one of the first blanket bog restoration projects on the island of Ireland and can be used as an example of effective peatland conservation.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Due to the success of the blanket bog restoration at the Garron Plateau, on peatland health, vegetation change and on water quality, as evidenced in the publications, as part pf the Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) project, the Ox Mountains blanket bog site will also be restored by Birdwatch Ireland. The methodology employed will be similar to those employed at the Garron Plateau, with a similar monitoring strategy put into place, collecting baseline and temporal data post- restoration.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Combined use of geochemical and geophysical methods to monitor peatland restoration 
Description Combining geochemical and geophysical methods provides a more rapid technique to effectively determine and map subsurface peatland degradation. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The methodology has been published in an international peer reviewed academic journal, Science of the Total Environment. 
 
Description IP workshop attendance 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Attended the 5th International Workshop on Induced Polarization in Rutgers University, Newark, USA from 3rd to 5th October 2018. This event was very useful to learn about other methods for which IP can be used but to also promote the use of geophysics, particularly IP to study the effects of peatland degradation and restoration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://sasn.rutgers.edu/news-events/events/5th-international-workshop-induced-polarization
 
Description Organised Peatlands outreach/ networking event for organisations and the public 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A Peatlands outreach/ networking event hosted in the Ulster Museum Belfast to encourage and inform the public on the benefits of peatland science and to encourage organisations to work together and knowledge share.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.nmni.com/whats-on/secrets-of-irelands-peatlands
 
Description Peatlands networking and information share event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentations given from research students at Queen's University and NI Water staff to relevant organisations and researchers involved in peatland conservation and management
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Television appearance on RTE's 'Eco-Eye' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Television appearance on RTE's 'Eco-Eye' entitled The Price of Peat. This episode covered the continual decline of peatlands in Ireland and their under-representation as important ecosystem services. This was compared with the positive restoration works that are currently happening in Northern Ireland and in particular, the Garron Plateau blanket bog site.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.rte.ie/tv/programmes/913570-eco-eye/.