13. Life on the Bog
26th July 2011
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This page is created to show the beauty and diversity of one of our most sensitive habitats, the bog. Our aim is to highlight the plants and animals that inhabit this small area of land.


Location:  West shore of Lough Allen



The nature of bogs

There are three raised bogs close to the western shore of Lough Allen that control rain water entering the groundwater and subsequently into Lough Allen. A healthy bog may play a part in reducing the effect of flash flooding. In dry conditions there may be no run off into local streams even after a torrential Summer cloudburst.

This study focuses on one of the local bogs and shows the beauty and uniqueness of the area. The photograph on the left shows how sphagnum moss works in creating a new bog. This area previously was a drain installed some time ago to dry the bog, Sphagnum then began to grow in it and caused it to become waterlogged; this is due to sphagnum mosses ability to absorb many times its own weight in water.

The sphagnum moss then begins to die off during hot summer months and provides a platform for more sphagnum moss to grow on it. This cycle is repeated over and over and this causes the build up of material that contributes to keeping the area waterlogged and providing a natural long lasting bog.

This is a slow process lasting over several millennia. Bogs can be restored and our photograph shows how that happens. A drain containing water runs straight across the view. A short remnant of a blocked drain enters from the base of the picture. This is definitely dry and the Sphagnum is dying off and leading to new turf formation. Where bogs have been drained and cut and the winning of turf has ended, a first step in restoring the bog is to block all drains. If this is done before all the turf is removed bog life can be restored.

A bog totally removed will never have the ability to re-form itself. It is in all our interest that bogs like this be respected and people work together in managing the bog in a manner that keeps the area available for future generations. Traditional means of cutting turf are still used in other parts and they limit the damage and reduce the amount of site preparation that is required to get the turf out.







Shape of the Bog.

Bogs are one of our oldest and most sensitive wetland habitats. They are slow forming and very quickly destroyed — usually to meet human needs. The type of bog that features in this article is a raised bog; there are many different types of bogs. Raised bogs form over thousands of years through a process of deposition.

Before man ever colonised Ireland, most of the island was covered in dense forestry, pine, oak, birch, etc.. When man arrived in Ireland they began to cut down these forests in order to grow crops and rear livestock. A typical example of this would be the Céide Fields where remnants of field boundaries have been identified and mapped though a process of measuring the depth of the present day turf cover.

However the bog we are studing is a raised bog whereas the Ceide field is a blanket bog on the north cliffs of Mayo. The picture on the right shows a curved bog surface, typical of a raised bog — though this bog is not as tall as many raised bogs. (As far as we know the picture was taken properly with the trees and clouds roughly horizontal) The area to the south is flat, as shown by the tree-line. It may be safe to presume that the ground under the bog is also reasonably flat, maybe with a slight depression?

These hollows or depressions left after the ice would have little soil or nutrients and slowly would become filled by plants which would survive on a barren slightly acidic mineral base. Sphagnum moss then invaded the bog and (because of its ability to suck up water from a lower level) forms the stereotypical dome shape that gives raised bogs their name.


Bog Forming plants:


Unusual Bog plants:


Sphagnum mosses are one of the most important plants found on bogs and they are fundamental to the formation of raised bogs. There are numerous different species in Ireland, with one being a vivid green colour and one being a red colour. Sphagnum moss was probably an early coloniser of bare terrain covering it and keeping the area waterlogged. This is the first step in bog formation and this is why sphagnum moss is extremely important the formation of this type of bog.

Throughout the years the sphagnum moss will die and decay but more sphagnum moss will grow on top of the old vegetation, thus keeping up the process of bog formation which allows the bog to rise up way above the level of the original pond or lake. In the picture above the Sphagnum has produced fruiting bodies. They have a white stem with brown fruits which relase spores disseminating Sphagnum over a wide area.


Bog Rosemary

This plant is a member of the Heath and Heather family, and appears to be thriving in this area. Not a lot is known about Bog Rosemary and it functions, and very little is known about its dispersal nationwide.

It can be distinguished from most other heathers by the shape and design of the leaf which is extremely similar to the domestic herb, Rosemary. It flowers in the bog over a long period and can be quite prolific.


The plant appears in three stages and they are illustrated in the pictures on the right. The flowering stem begins as a striking deep pink stem with a small pointed bud at the tip.

Cross-leaved Heath

Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix)is a perennial subshrub which can easily become confused with Bell Heather. Bell Heather’s anther is visible protruding from the flowering head whereas this does not occur with the Crossed-leaved Heath which normally also has flowers of a magenta colour. Its leaves are in whorls of four and they are very narrow and needle like. They survive extremely well in waterlogged places and they help provide a more stable environment for other plants and animals.

Crossed-leaved Heather also prevents the removal of the peaty subsoil by water erosion. The roots delve deep into the soil and help anchor the peat and moss and gives turf its cohesive quality. If turf was pure sphagnum, it would fall apart...



This later fades to a baby pink colour as it gets older. This plant appears to flower over a few months as the first flowering specimens were spotted at the beginning of May, while a large number of flowering specimen were spotted in mid-July.


This is one of the most common heathers found in bogland around Ireland. It was present here in much smaller numbers than the Cross-leaved Heath but it performs the same function in stabilising the bog.

The flowers of this plant are also different to the Cross-leaved Heath as they do not have the bell shaped look, and are a slightly paler shade of pink compared to the Cross-leaved Heath. The flowers have 6-8 petals have a dark pink tinge beginning at the base of the petal and finishing half way up the petal. The pink stigma and style can be clearly distiguished protruding further out than the petals. This plant also provides shelter and protection for certain species of birds and the young leaves are also an important food source.



The fruiting heads appear as a deep purple colour and are hard to distinguish amongst the vegetation.

The fruit of Bog Rosemary appears not to be used as a food source by other animals, as many specimens were spotted with their fruits intact.

White Beak Sedge

Sedges are also one of the main plants found within a bog. They aid in preserving the bogland habitat by creating more stable ground and reducing the risk of erosion.

The sedge that was found at this site is known as the White Beak Sedge (Rhyncospora alba). It is a native plant to Ireland and is relatively abundant nationwide. It is typically of bogs as it thrives in soils with low nutrient levels.

It has white flowers which change to a slightly browner colour as the plant gets older. It can be easily distinguished from other sedges as it has two flowering heads, which contain usually 10 or more spikelets. It is found in groups and in some small areas of the bog it carpets the surface of the bog.




Bog Myrtle

Bog Myrtle is a small bush typical of the West of Ireland and can be located on the edge of bogs and lakes. It produces huge amounts of orangey brown pollen in April and May and if you walk through a patch of Myrtle you can be walking through a cloud of brown dust.

It has a very pungent smell and is found at this site very deep in the bog near to Bilberry bushes and Birch trees at the western fringe of the bog.

Bog Asphodel

Another common species found all over raised Bogs. Can form a carpet of bright orange spikes transforming bogs in late Summer. It is a beautiful flower when seen close up. Being locally abundant it must contribute significantly to bog life and bog formation?

This is an unusual little plant, productive, abundant, striking, and a true native species. It is a Monocot like the grasses and orchids and the Bog Cotton; but it is the only member of its particular family.

“Lonely little Asphodel in a boggy patch!”



Bog cotton

Bog cotton is typical of all bogs and is easily distinguished by the white hairy ‘flowers’.

It is a member of the sedge family and it has yellow anthers during the spring in contrast to the white flowers during the summer.

Throughout this bog, the bog cotton was mainly established about 5-10m distance from the nearest drain. It was present at this site in small numbers and preferred the Eastern side of the bog, nearer to the wetter areas beside drains.



The Cranberry (Vaccinium oxy- coccos) which was found at this site occurs on the eastern side of the bog close to a drain and a bog road. It grows on mounds of Sphagnum where it is more exposed to sunlight.

It has a very small pink flower with considerably larger berries forming mainly in the month of May. Its leaves are small and opposite each other. It is a creeping plant and continously searches for the best areas for sunlight.

The distribution of the Cranberry was very local at this bog found only at one site with low numbers. This plant could be a significant food source for some small insects and possibly birds. One of the berries appeared to have been eaten by some form of insect, as only the outer skin remained while the inside flesh was eaten.





The Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) is present in every area of this bog and is a fantastic flower to observe. Its feeding pattern is different to most plants as it has become a carnivorous plant adapted to the low nutrient levels within a bog — it acquires Nitrogen from insects it captures in its specialised leaves.

This plant is has bright red leaves that have little hairs with droplets on the end to attract flies and a very tiny white flower, with the buds often looking like little green droplets.

It is easily distinguished from other sundews by its round leaves and it congregates in large groups around drains and mounds of sphagnum where it is more exposed to the surrounding environment. This plant is typical of most wetland areas and is abundant locally at this site.



Bilberry is a member of the Heather family and is typical of most bogs and mountainous slopes. There are small numbers of Bilberry at the edge of this bog but as you move inward the numbers increased.

The Bilberry's fruit is dark purple in colour, which often stains the hands after picking. Bilberrys, or Fraocháins, are very tasty and are found as singlular berries with leaves sometimes green and tinged with red or entire red leaves. The Bilberry is common nationwide and is a very tasty treat to stumble across when out hiking or exploring wetland or woodland habitats.


Fairy Flax

This is a very delicate flower and is a declining species of lime, bog and fens. It is related to the cultivated flax which, however, has a blue flower. Fairy Flax has very narrow stems with small slightly onal leaves. Its flower consists of five white petals with three lines through each petal and a yellow tinge at the base of each petal. The tip of the stigma and the anthers are bright yellow, whereas the ovaries and the stamen are green. This plant was present in good numbers along the path that brings you to the entrance to the bog, but was not present at any other site within the bog itself.


A Patchwork of Bog Flowers

This image shows many of the flowers present in most bogland habitats. In this image there are Common and Cross-leaved Heath,
Bog Asphodel, Sundew flowers, White Beak Sedge, and Sphagnum moss. It shows how a suitable habitat can accommodate many different
species of plants and how they can co-exsist alongside one another. This photograph also shows the beauty that is available and easy to access.
These plants have learnt to co-exist with one another, possibly this is a lesson to the human race to co-exist with plants?


Wildlife on the Bog


A success story! Curlews (or 1 pair anyway) seem to be
breeding in the Lough Allen area...

Curlews are becoming a less common sight around Ireland; along with Lapwings, their numbers are seriously declining. At this site not only was a Curlew spotted, but a nesting site and four eggs were also observed. It is believed that the breeding bird was successful and managed to hatch all four eggs.



Not so successful a story! Lapwings seem to have largely
abandoned Lough Allen

Until recently Lapwings have occurred around the Lake in small numbers. They have bred in fields beside this bog. Unfortunately their decline is Europe wide and probably does not reflect local conditions. On the other hand they could possibly be encouraged to return to breed here if the proper conditions were provided and if predators and pests like Grey Crows and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were controlled!


This Curlew was first spotted by a colleague looking for plants on May 1st. It was seen quietly leaving the area and was close enough to see its take-off point. Heading directly to it, he was very pleased to find this nest and four eggs. A quick photograph and a position and then the Curlew was left to come back.

The nest has been  monitored on a regular basis since and the 4 eggs were there until rhe 19th of May but gone by rhe 31st. At this stage egg remnants were found away from the nest but no sign of predation, and Curlews were calling nearby. We assumed they hatched and the chicks fled the nest, as is their nature.

This is a successful outcome and a very significant find as it is believed that the Curlews are no longer breeding as successfully in Ireland as they have done in previous years. This record has been notified to BirdWatch Irl.


Lapwings were seen displaying (like in this photo) over fields adjoining the Bog both this year and commonly in the past. Indeed they settled down to lay eggs here last year (top photo) but were eventually driven off by Grey Crows.

Lapwings do respond to conservation measures and need open ground, with good visibility and some access to water in ditches etc. They would be a very important species to conserve as part of keeping the whole Lough Allen basin rich and vibrant and natural.

Sand Martin

A bird of river banks and sand pits, the Sand Martin has learned to colonise bog faces. These holes are the nesting burrows of a colony of Sand Martins in one of Lough Allen’s raised bogs.

It is an example of the diversity and the adaptability of life in occupying a new niche — but we would still prefer to see bogs left intact (or restored) to the greatest degree  possible?



This picture symbolises for us the diversity and richness of life on the bog. The last day we were working on the bog Larks were busy feeding their young.

Not coming too close to us they were continually in and out with a diversity of insects, mostly Moths, as in this picture.

Skylarks are a very attractive bird, one of those species held in our memory of hot Summer days with the Larks singing high up in the sky... pure magic!


Unfortunately, this one failed to make it! This well grown chick (Below) was recently found dead in the ditch below the bank, when we were attempting (unsuccessfully) to photograph Sand Martins entering and leaving their nesting holes.



This picture shows Hare droppings which proves that Hares are also present. The droppings were found in a number of areas which shows that there may be a good number of Hares present at this site. This is not unexpected as Hares are generally common in most suitable areas nationwide. Although this is not a significant find it highlights the importance of this area to sustain different types of plants and animals. It also shows how biodiverse this area is as it can accommodate small plants such as the sundew to large mammals such as the hare.






This grasshopper is thought to be a Meadow Grasshopper and is one of the most common grasshoppers found in Ireland. They inhabit areas that have long grass and can be often heard before they are seen. They create noise by rubbing their hind legs off their forewings or abodmen which produces a series of clicking sounds at a very high speed.

On approaching a grasshopper it will stop creating noise as soon as you are within 1m of them as they try to flee before they are discovered. Generally they are very successful at this due to their green colour which acts as camouflage. If this does not work they will then try to flee by flying a short distance. They will keep repeating this until they are successful.

This grasshopper was found alongside the path that leads up to the bog and fled within 30 seconds of taking the photograph.



Dragonflies are found mainly in wetland areas and especially near areas of water such as rivers and lakes, but they also love bogs.

They prey mainly on small insects and can be observed hovering or zig zagging over vegetation. They are large insects and are very interesting to observe due to their size and everchanging behaviour.

They have a wide range of colours, but the species shown in the picture was mainly black and yellow. This individual appeared very drowsy which may have suggested it had just recently hatched which allowed for the photograph to be taken. This is an indication that this habitat is a healthy habitat and as a good insect population as it can support such a voracious predator as the Dragonfly.

What feeds on the Dragonflies... Skylarks and Sand Martins might take the smaller species — but one this big?







Funguses etc...

Cladonia cristatella

Two ‘funguses’ from the Bog. One is obvious and abundant on dry or clear banks; the other grows in among the Sphagnum

Cladonia is typically found in wetland areas and was found to be relativeley abundant at this site over a wide area. Cladonia is the name of a fungus which is part of this organism. But we are actually looking at a Lichen. The fungus is associated with an alga to produce the structure shown here.

The alga lives in symbiosis with the fungus, and one could not survive without the other. The fungus forms the outer shell and gives protection to the alga which in return produces food for the fungus. This species was found mainly near the ditches and streams and was found in areas where it could be exposed to sunlight to allow for the algae to make food that is essential for the Lichen’s survival.



Galerina sp.

A tiny mushroom of the Galerina genus which loves to grow in the middle of Sphagnum.

It is widespread and found in Sphagnum around the world. There are many species and difficult to identify

If anyone has experience with this species, please CONTACT us!

Preserving the rich diversity of Bog Life...

It is important to preserve our bogs in order for then to be viable in the future and for future generations. The preservation of bogs is extremely important due to the fact they are extremely slow forming. This area of bog has been burned in past years and this has led to a wide range of species occurring within the bog. Also a short stand of heather would encourage waders and other birds to breed in the bog. A management process that would help in preserving the natural diversity within the bog would be ideal. When a bog is burned it removes all the older vegetation and provides a more fertile surface for plants to grow on and it also helps promote new growth. These are some of the positives of using this type of preservation process, but there is a fine balance that has to be achieved because over burning of a bog could lead to utter desolation.

The preserving of bogs is important for wildlife and also people. This bog in particular is extremely important for the breeding Curlew which was spotted on it earlier in the year. Not only is it important for breeding birds such as the Curlews, Skylarks and Sand Martins, but it is a stronghold for animals such as the Hare and smaller animals like grasshoppers and dragonflies. It is a important area for most of the plants listed above. Bogs are essential to certain species as most of the plants that grow within boggy areas do not grow in other habitats around Ireland.

Bogland areas are also beneficial to humans who all have different interests within the bog. Many people see the bog as a source of fossil fuel and they appreciate it for that reason but not necessarily for the wildlife within it. Some people use the bog for leisure purposes (such as clay pigeon competitions). Others use the bogs in winter as a food source when hunting for game birds such as Pheasant and Mallard. Some people use the bog as a area to unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet. It appears that all the people that use the bog appreciate it in different ways and these different interests should be respected. If coniferous firewood was made more generously available then there may be no need to cut the bog on such a extensive scale. i.e., burn wood not turf (see HERE).

Social and environmental changes can also threaten the biodiversity within a bog. The underappreciation of a bog is one of the main dangers to bog survival and the rich biodiversity it contains. Some people view bogs as land which has no municipal or agricultural use. But we strongly feel that they should not be used as dumps either? We have all seen numerous places where beds and washing machines have been dumped in bogs around Ireland. This is very unsightly and ruins other people’s enjoyment of the habitat. The dumping of garden waste can affect the natural biodiversity of a bog by the introduction of invasive species, like Rhododendron. It is important that the bogs of Ireland are maintained and preserved as the bog is an asset to everybody and is essential for many plants and animals. If a bog is destroyed it can be of no use to anyone because, unlike other areas in nature, the bog can not replace itself in 10, 20 or even 50 years.

It takes thousands of years for a bog to form — if a bog is destroyed it will never truly recover.


Production Team:

This article has been reported and presented by Emma Dunne,
Sligo Institute of Technology, on a Work Experience programe
with LoughAllenBasin.com for the Summer!

Emma has wonderful sharp eyes (see photo on Right) and can spot
the small and wonderful parts of our environment in a way that we oldies
have to struggle with! (She has also been responsible for the vast majority of the Photographs apart from a few which where taken before she joined us.)

(Editing and Page Design by LoughAllenBasin.com)


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