At Peatlands Park near Dungannon you will find a rich
bog habitat that is a wildlife goldmine for plants, insects, birds and mammals.
Ireland's cool, wet climate has resulted in a very special landscape over the
last 10,000 years.
- a rich bog habitat.|
In places where all the
conditions are just right - there is bogland and within it there's one special
ingredient - peat.
Getting stuck in
Peatlands Park you are actively encouraged to get your hands on the peat - by
having a go at digging it up.
Peat is still cut and used as a fuel - the
locals call it turf - and it possesses an evocative smell of days gone-by.
closely you can see exactly what peat is made of - all the dead plant matter that
has been squashed together over thousands of years.
All the bits of tree
and branch that have grown and died then accumulated to form the peat.
bogs like Peatlands are something of a history trail - because as well as finding
plant material, evidence of human activity can also be found - including track
ways, boats and even perfectly preserved human remains.
Park is one of Northern Ireland's premier nature reserves.
It is effectively
a raised bog - in places it is almost 30 feet deep - but there is also woodland,
lakes and mile upon mile of boardwalks and footpaths.
If you want to take
it easy you can explore the landscape by train - which historically would have
been used to take away the extracted peat.
But this is no museum - because
the peatlands are full of living plants that can be seen today including one or
two beauties that you just have to search out.
Fed only by rainfall, the
peatlands support a group of highly specialised plants - real toughies that are
able to hang on in one of the UK's harshest environments
So how do plants
survive in this habitat in which different conditions support diverse communities
Survival of the fittest
is an acidic environment and plants have to adapt to survive.
There is little
oxygen in the water - and not much nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, so plants
have devised cunning ways of coping.
The heather forms an association with
fungi so it can extract what it needs - while other plants have turned carnivorous
The Sundews are one of the commonest and best known plants of
These carnivores catch their insect prey and then release enzymes
which can digest the flesh.
Also look out for Pitcher Plants - which are
not native to Ireland but have found their way onto the reserve.
prey that has fallen into the pitcher of water below - and the nutrients from
the body feed the plant - a six legged fertilizer!
autumn is a great time to see the Peatlands' bogs because the colours are amazing.
Wood is at the heart of the reserve - it is undulating woodland that has grown
on drumlins which are relics of the Ice Age.
It is a boggy area that has
never been farmed - and a result it has become something of a wildlife haven.
is great for birds - especially Jays - and a top spot for seeing the Irish Hare,
another endangered species that flourishes here.
can track down another woodland creature that has colonised this landscape - the
Wood Ant - whose nest can reach the size of a double bed.
But in fact these
are not Irish ants - they are Scottish Wood Ants that are thought to have been
introduced here in the 1840s possibly as a food source for game birds.
is the only place in the whole of Ireland where you can find this creature.
is unusual to find them in deciduous woodland because ants are generally a creature
of the Caledonian pine forest.
We tend to think that ants are creatures
of the ground - but if you look up - you will see they tend to do most of their
foraging in trees - you can often say long lines of workers stretching up the
You can see the workers all year round - apart from the midwinter
months - but warm sunny days are best.
At Peatlands there are 40 ant mounds
- but forget all the bad press that ants get about being destroyers of all that
lie in their path.
The Wood Ants are reasonably tolerant, allowing guests,
parasites and scavengers to live amongst their colony including aphids that they
farm and worms that they allow to live in their tunnels to keep them mould free!
Larger mammals and birds
are also some bigger creatures that can be found on the reserve - Badgers, Jays
and Long-eared Owl.
You could easily spend more than a day exploring the
Back on the bogland don't miss the last hour of daylight and watch
the dragonflies before they rest up for the night.
Also look out for Herons
on the small lake next to the visitor centre.
All photographs are copyright and
courtesy of Andy Hay, Sue Tranter, Nigel Blake and RSPB Images.