Ireland Declared A Climate Emergency. So Why Are We Building A Motorway Through A Bog?
A Road Can be Relocated but Ardee Bog Cannot.¹
Ardee Bog is Ireland’s most easterly Raised Bog and a site of National Ecological Importance. It is now threatened with destruction by the proposed N52 Ardee bypass. If Ireland is serious about being a climate leader we need to stop this project.
In 1990 and 1998 the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) surveyed the Bog and identified a core area for conservation surrounded by a buffer zone of supporting habitat. It’s a sanctuary of Heather, a living carpet of psychedelic greens and reds of Sphagnum Moss, Lichen and Sundew, with yellows and pinks of Bog Orchids, and white of Bog Cotton.
At least three pairs of Curlew are currently nesting in Ardee Bog.² Their haunting call fills the air. There are Otters, Cuckoos, Owls, Hares, Bats, Frogs, Deer and Snipe too.
The Curlew may become extinct as a breeding species in Ireland within 5–10 years.
Raised bogs are discreet landscapes, essentially sponges made from peat mosses that began to develop over 10,000 years ago when glaciers retreated. Due to their scarcity and vulnerability raised bogs were designated a priority habitat under the 1992 EU Habitats Directive. In Ireland they are most commonly found in the midlands and the Shannon basin. Ardee Bog in County Louth is unusual, a rare gem. Unfortunately, to some it’s only a brown smudge on the map, terra incognita, something to be filled in, paved over.
Plans for the N52 Ardee bypass began in July 2001. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required by Irish and European law prior to work commencing on such a project. But an EIA was never carried out. An Bord Pleanála erroneously granted planning permission for the project in October 2001 and it has been on hold pending funding. In 2018 Minister Shane Ross took it off the shelf and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) is now preparing to construct a 4.5 km Type 2 Single Carriageway in the proposed National Heritage Area and Flood Zone.³
A raised bog may be up to 98% water and only 2% solid matter.
Since 2008 the flood waters from Ardee Bog have risen dramatically (pictured). So has the project budget, which has almost doubled to 34 million Euros. As an EIA was never carried out, TII only discovered the flood risk when the Community Action Group pointed it out at a meeting in the Dáil.⁴
The updated plan seems to propose a road on stilts, elevated three meters over the flood zone with a concrete foundation. The damage this would cause is inconceivable. We cannot allow a road to cut through one of the country’s last remaining Raised Bogs. An EIA needs to be carried out immediately.
The IPCC states that “We are legally bound by National and European legislation (The Wildlife Acts, Habitats and Bird’s Directives) and international conventions (Ramsar, Bern, and Convention on Biological Diversity) to do our utmost to protect peatlands now and for future generations. In County Louth specifically, only ~30% of raised Bog habitat remains, an area of 300 hectares. Peatland habitats have been severely diminished in the country and this destruction is an issue in other legislation such as the UN Convention on Climate Change, Bonn Convention, World Heritage Convention, Water Framework Directive, Environment Liability Directive, Planning and Development Acts, National Monuments Acts, Environmental Directive, EIA and SEA. All of these legislative instruments have been adopted by Ireland.”
Louth County Council themselves say: “[We] will pursue environmental policies that will seek to safeguard the long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the county and will lead by example in the compliance with EU, national and regional policies. [We] will also seek to ensure that the highest possible environmental standards are maintained so that a high-quality environment can be bequeathed to future generations.”
Ardee Bog is the very last and most easterly Raised Bog within County Louth and the Republic of Ireland. — Irish Peatland Conservation Council
Anyone who’s driven through Ardee knows it’s a bottleneck. Some form of bypass may be necessary, but it would be wrong to put it through the Bog. It won’t solve the problem because most of the traffic does not come from the N52 Kells road, site of the proposed bypass, but from the N2 Dublin road where three local schools, and all the new housing estates (built since the bypass was originally conceived seventeen years ago) converge at a little bridge over the river Dee.
I grew up on the edge of Ardee Bog. Some of my first artworks were about the Bog. In 2003 I represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale, the oldest and most prestigious international Art Exhibition. In Venice I studied the ecological connections between Humans and the lagoon ecosystem, another kind of watershed. The city was sinking, water was rising, Weeds were moving north due to the changing climate, but nothing was being done. Greta Thunberg was born that year. Now, sixteen years later, we can no longer pretend everything is okay. Greta calls things by their true names and has inspired global movements like Extinction Rebellion.
Climate Change is an existential crisis. On May 9, 2019 Ireland declared a Climate Emergency and launched a Climate Action Plan. Bogs are the most important long-term carbon sink in our terrestrial biosphere.⁵ They sequester and store atmospheric carbon for thousands of years. The IPCC estimates that Ireland’s peatlands store 1085 mega tonnes of carbon. The Climate Action Plan states that “Peatlands represent 64% of our total soil organic carbon stock, representing the largest store of carbon in the Irish landscape. This store is very vulnerable, especially to drainage for forestry, grazing and extraction. We will develop and better manage our carbon sinks.”
The Anthropocene, the Human Epoch, is the name for our current geological era. Today, we are disturbing all the Earth’s systems to such a degree that the lines between things that grow — Bogs, Bacteria, Bats — and things that we make — cities, computers, cars — have begun to blur. A few years ago, I created a Tree Alphabet as a way to cope. By replacing all the letters in the ABC with Trees I created a way to re-imagine the words I use every day, to literally rewrite Nature and other words, like, for example, Future.
“Our lives are in your hands,” Greta says. Paving Ardee Bog is bad policy. It won’t solve any problems but would create many new ones. Let’s leave the black butter, as Seamus Heaney called it, where it belongs, in the ground.
¹ This story first appeared in the September 10, 2019 printed edition of the Drogheda Independent.
² In June 2019 Jennifer Lynch, the County Louth Ranger, surveyed Ardee Bog and found evidence for potentially three nesting pairs of Curlew, mapping seven key sites where the Curlews feed and nest. Two of these sites are in the direct path of the proposed N52 Ardee Bypass.
³ Since publishing this article it was brought to my attention that Ardee Bog is a pNHA (proposed Natural Heritage Area). pNHAs were published on a non-statutory basis in 1995, but have not since been statutorily proposed or designated. These sites are of significance for wildlife and habitats. Prior to statutory designation, pNHAs are subject to limited protection, in the form of: 1. Agri-environmental farm planning schemes such as Rural Environment Protection Scheme and Agri Environmental Options Scheme continue to support the objective of maintaining and enhancing the conservation status of pNHAs. 2. Recognition of the ecological value of pNHAs by Planning and Licencing Authorities.
⁴ In 2018 a Community Action Group was formed, representing residents of Snipe Hill, Mullenstown, Artnalivery, Glack, Stormanstown, Mountrush, Churchtown, Townspark, Coole, Silverhill, Druncondrath. On July 5, 2018, they met with Minister Shane Ross, Declan Breathnach TD, Fergus O’Dowd, Imelda Munster, Gerry Adams, Peter Fitzpatrick and two representatives from TII who declined to introduce themselves. The CAG’s presentation emphasised potential negative impacts of the proposed bypass on Ardee Bog and the risk of increased flooding. More info: www.ardeebog.org
⁵ Source: “Peatlands as Carbon Sinks,” Irish Peatland Conservation Council website.