Peatlands are estimated to have covered a total area of 1.17 million ha or 17% of the area of the Republic of Ireland at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,700 years ago. This original area (also called maximum Holocene presence) corresponds to a high percentage cover enjoyed by other countries in Europe (see image).
Over the last 11,700 years however, much of this area has been extensively modified by humans. Peat has been used in Ireland since prehistoric times, but since the advent of industrial peat extraction, the process has accelerated and within a few decades most of the larger raised bogs in the Irish Midlands will have been exploited. In 1979, it was estimated that around 56% of the original area of bogs was still ‘unmodified’. However, all Irish peatlands to date have been affected by peat cutting, grazing or fire to one extent or another. In a recent assessment, it was estimated that only 10% of the original raised bog and 28% of the original blanket peatland resource are deemed suitable for conservation (EPA, 2011). Given Irish bogs' national and international significance, several national organisations and charities actively work to preserve Irish peatlands by campaigning for their protecting at national and international levels. These include the Irish Peatland Conservation Council and An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland).
Irish peatlands typically fall into three categories:
- Blanket bog
- Atlantic blanket bog
- Mountain blanket bog
- Raised bog
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