Conserving priority habitats: Understanding the impact of fire on All Saints Bog, Ireland

 

Due to the unpredictable nature of wildfires, it’s not always possible to collect data from an active fire. Fortunately, we are able to get a lot of information about fires by studying the charred remains of plants that are left behind after the fire has passed. These post-burn assessments can be used to help us understand more about fire characteristics. This is particularly important in habitats that are vulnerable to burning, yet considered high conservation priorities, such as All Saints Bog, Offaly County, Ireland. With this in mind, on a cold, damp day in November 2013, Vicky Hudspith, Claire Belcher and Jon Yearsley set out to collect charcoal samples from a recent fire that occurred on the bog.

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Quadrat sampling of charcoal and severity scoring

The exceptionally warm and dry July of 2013, provided the perfect conditions for a fire. This fire was of particular concern to conservationists such as the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) and the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) as the bog has been designated a Special Area of Conservation or Natura 2000 site, and an EU priority habitat, due to the rare patch of birch woodland on the bog. Such sites are uncommon in Ireland and across the EU as a whole. It is imperative that these habitats are protected in order to conserve their unique biodiversity and ecology. However, in a recent monitoring report, the conservation status of All Saints Bog was classified as ‘unfavourable-bad’ due to the impact of active peat-cutting and drainage threatening the bog woodland. Intense peat-cutting has been shown to increase fire frequency, and depending on the intensity and frequency, fires have the potential to alter the vegetation composition on the bog.

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Claire taking a core through the peat

Before conservation strategies can be made for these priority habitats, it is essential to understand the impact of disturbances, such as fire on this site. As part of a collaborative project between the University of Exeter (Claire Belcher, Angela Gallego-Sala, Victoria Hudspith, Stacey-Louise New), University College Dublin (Jon Yearsley, Nuria Prat-Guitart), NUI Galway/ Denyer Ecology: Ecological Consultancy (Joanne Denyer) and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Ciara Flynn, Noel Bugler, Jim Ryan), we hope to investigate how ecologically damaging these fires on All Saints Bog are, by looking at the previous history of fires on the bog, as well as the severity (amount of organic matter lost), and intensity (temperature) of the 2013 fire.

Blogged by Vicky Hudspith