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The transformation of the post industrial peat harvesting landscape in order to create a facility that would benefit the local community, wildlife, and flora. This area of biodiversity reflects the core business values of the company and enables them to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, the community and to a sustainable future.
Lough Boora Discovery Park is a fantastic step taken by Bord na Móna to conserve nature and retain biodiversity within the area. It is a part of the Group’s corporate biodiversity project to promote and enhance the biodiversity of the areas of local, national and international importance and fall within the Bord na Móna lands. Originally, Lough Boora is one of the Mesolithic sites in Ireland and has been a primary source of peat (over 1 million tons) to Bord na Móna for nearly half a century.
In the mid-90s, Bord na Móna developed and transformed the area from an industrial wasteland into a sanctuary for wildlife, with several amenities for the local community and tourists. It also includes places for relaxation and refuge, with activities such as fishing, angling, a sculpture park, cycling, walking routes for the visitors and have arrangements and facilities for the people of all ages and abilities. It spreads over an area of about 2,000 hectares and includes wetlands, forestry, grasslands and wild meadow. As a final output, the bog lands and industrial area that existed for about 1,500 years has been transformed into a tourist hub and fabulous visitor experience, which reflects the uniqueness of the project. It has also managed to raise awareness about the importance of the conservation and management of biodiversity within Bord na Móna Group, which is now extended to the wider community.
The environment is transformed within a time frame of about 30 years from an industrial wasteland into an absolutely fabulous and rich wildlife habitat full of flora and fauna. It is inhabited by the endangered species of birds such as the Grey Partridge.
There is also an outdoor sculpture park that encourages artists to come and develop their own idea and piece of sculpture by taking inspiration from the surrounding environment. Bord na Móna develops such sculptures in conjunction with the artists. At present, there are about 25 large scale outdoor sculpture pieces in the park and they relate to the local heritage and natural beauty of the landscape such as the old bog, timbers, the peat etc. and also the industrial heritage.
Lough Boora Discovery Park won the best environmental tourism innovation award at the 2015 Irish Tourism Award.
All in all, Bord na Móna, and thereby Lough Boora, has managed to touch quite a few of the UN Global Goals such as promoting good health and well-being, development of communities in the locality, responsible production and consumption as they managed to completely convert a wasteland into a resourceful habitat for wildlife and human beings, climate action indirectly by promoting greenery and developing the flora and fauna within the area, and finally the life on land has also been improved due to all of these initiatives.
Lough Boora as a turf ground goes back millenniums; it brought warmth and shelter to its occupants. Peat appeared in Ireland after the last Ice Age and has been used since then. Lough Boora was one of the most prominent settlement in Ireland during the Mesolithic and it is a major archaeological site in Ireland for this era. Bog has been a source of heat and power for the Irish. It was also used for its preservative power. For centuries, its collection was done in a traditional manner. However, peat harvesting was industrialised in the 20th century and Lough Boora produced over 1 million tonnes of peat every year to provide power to Irish industries and households. This irreversibly changed the landscape of Lough Boora which was exploited by Bord na Móna in the 1950s and 1970s. One notable change to the environment during this period was the drainage of the lake, even though it was never used for peat harvesting. This industry has become increasingly obsolete; other power sources, less damaging for the environment, are now preferred. The post industrial site has been reclaimed for agriculture and eco-tourism, of which the discovery park is a prime example.
The project was launched in 1994 by Bord na Móna local branch, workers on the site and members of the community. The idea behind the discovery park is to enhance the post-industrial landscape for the local community and to attract tourism. It is also a place for the peatland's wildlife and flora to flourish after the damages done by industrialisation. Visitors can relax and reflect on the history that surround them. In a way, the aim of the Lough Boora Discovery Park is to go back to the site original purpose as a refuge. Historically, Lough Boora has always been a place for the community to develop and the goal is to give it back to them, working in conjunction with the locals.
Lough Boora Discovery Park impact can be examined under the prism of the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals. The following goals are the ones where Lough Boora makes the biggest impact: Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Life below Water, Life on Land and Climate Action.
Lough Boora Discovery Park has been, from the beginning, an initiative designed by and for the community, in line with the larger project of the Lough Boora Nature Reserve, administered by the Irish Wildlife Trust. The Discovery park offers a vast, open and peaceful scenery for locals and visitors to enjoy. A number of festival and events are organised by Bord na Móna for the local communities and families, in particular, such as the Fairy Festival run in partnership with Barretstown, a charity that runs free camps for children suffering of serious illness.
The site also offers educational tours for school classes to come and learn about the environment, the wildlife, the flora but also the long history of the place. The Discovery Park is also a touristic attraction and promotes the local economy. The newly launched OurLand festival caters to families with educational activities for children in partnership with the Imaginosity Children’s Museum, a Dublin institution. The festival also showcases artists and local artisans. Those initiatives can be tied in with a number of different UN global goals such as Quality Education, Decent Work and Economic Growth and Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Lough Boora serves as a reminder, for present and future generations, of the extensive damages to the environment caused by industrialisation. During Bord na Móna’s mass exploitation of the site, the lake was drained and other lasting impacts affected the landscape and the fauna and flora. The site is today, paved with reminder of this time, such as the sculpture park which displays art inspired by the environment and the industrial past of Lough Boora. Thus encouraging the public and especially children to be mindful of their consumption.
When the lake was drained in the mid-20th century, an entire ecosystem disappeared. With the end of peat harvesting at Lough Boora eleven artificial lakes were created. In this process, biodiversity was reintroduced by transplanting aquatic plants from local rivers and fishes were introduced. This was conducted under the advice of the Central and Shannon Regional Fisheries Boards. The lakes are now naturalised and prosper on their own. They are a hotspot for fishing and angling.
Lough Boora Discovery Park is located inside the Lough Boora Natural Reserve. The industrialisation of peat harvesting had destroyed or diminished species in the area. Species that are now allowed to grow and prosper. Lough Boora is now a safe haven for the flora and wildlife. By restoring the bog, biodiversity returns exhibiting nature’s capability to regenerating itself. The number of species naturally appearing in the area is increasing making Lough Boora a place of high environmental value. Actions taken on the site to improve life on land are two-part: rehabilitation and conservation. Rehabilitation of peatlands are directed following the EPA regulations under the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control Licenses. The aim is to re-naturalise the area and return it to wilderness. Once this is achieved, the place becomes a safe haven for endangered species, animal or vegetal but also for more common living beings. A number of threatened species have found refuge at Lough Boora such as the Blue Fleabane and Alder Buckthorn plants.
Peat burning is a highly polluting activity, turf being the most damaging fuel in climate term. It is therefore important to turn to other sources of energy which Bord na Móna has done and is doing. Peat harvesting is also a polluting endeavour because of the process but also of the destruction of the peatlands which are natural and powerful carbon sinks. They stock carbon indefinitely and prevent its release in the atmosphere. Carbon being one of the main gas responsible for greenhouse effect and therefore, climate warming. The rehabilitated peatlands such as Lough Boora have the long term potential to become carbon sinks again, thus playing a role in limiting the effect of greenhouse gas.
There are numerous business benefits Bord na Móna can avail of through the development of the boglands at Lough Boora. Primarily the initiative enables the company to realize one of their core business objectives, as outlined in their annual report. The corporate objective is to “Promote the role of Bord na Móna in enhancing biodiversity and to create awareness of the cut away bogs through wide use management for biodiversity and carbon.” They have recognised that tourism and amenity have a significant potential for the redevelopment of the bogs and that they can be used to demonstrate the company’s core objectives of ensuring that changes are sustainable for “our people, profits and planet.”
Their business model is to Source – Supply – Recover. Sustainability is a primary focus of their business so the restoration and rehabilitation of these lands is a very important aspect of their business model. They have recognised that any future development has to be sustainable without damaging the environment, the initiative at Lough Boora enables them to add value to their existing businesses by demonstrating on a tangible level what their core values are.
The redevelopment of the bog lands is bound by a number of legislative regulatory mechanisms and it is a requirement that companies are compliant with the legislation. These environmental regulatory mechanisms include EPAGMA (European Peat and Growing Media Association), IPC (Integrated Pollution Control Licensing), EU Natura 2000 Obligations. In addition there are also obligations to be met from the UN Convention on Biodiversity, EU Biodiversity Strategy, Ireland's National Biodiversity Plan and the National Peatland Strategy. The EU’s Headline Target for progress by 2020 is “to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU by 2020, restore them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss”.
Bord na Móna have grasped this directive well and have really used the opportunity to show what they are capable of as a company. The development at Lough Boora has provided a haven for environmental and wildlife enthusiasts as well as providing a valuable amenity for the whole community. It has helped to raise their profile and increase their reputation for being a sustainable company with a positive ecological footprint. Bord na Móna are able to encapsulate this and use it to share and promote their experiences with others. They are able to communicate their passion for biodiversity and environmental issues by releasing a number of marketing media on a local, national and international scale with the media ranging from local newspaper articles to international conferences. They promote awareness and education of biodiversity in the boglands through working with schools and communities. Activities have been organised such as Bioblitz to encourage people to interact with and record biodiversity on Bord na Móna bog areas. All of this increases brand awareness, reinforces the brand and enhances reputation, it also helps to ensure sustainable long term growth for the company.
Bord na Móna has a duty of care to the environment and the once worked bog lands have been transformed into habitats of high ecological value. The initiative at Lough Boora encompasses the overall vision for their business as a whole. As a company Bord na Móna has moved towards becoming a sustainable business. It has embraced newly emerging values of ‘Changing Landscapes and Changing Perspectives’ and has evolved from a business who profited from the earth’s natural resources to one that respects, protects and sustains its environment. It is at the very core of their business that ethical norms are not compromised in order to achieve corporate goals, in essence, ethical goals form their corporate vision. The vision is to have ‘A contract with nature’. They understand that they are custodians of Ireland's natural resources and it is their responsibility to ensure it is managed properly for the benefit of the many stakeholders involved.
Their high moral management standards mean that the business will not grow at the expense of the environment and society, the company’s goals and community goals are mutually interdependent. They understand that the stakeholders have a moral claim on the business and that these stakeholders include the local community, the environment and the society at large.
Lough Boora, in essence, provides Bord na Móna with a social contract between the business and society. The resource that they have created addresses the entire spectrum of obligations that the business has to society. They strive to be a good corporate citizen and want to keep local communities vibrant. Enhancement of the community’s quality of life is key, their concern for profits is interlinked to their concern for society.
Socially Lough Boora Discover Park provides a special place for people to go and beat one with nature. The park attracts around 100,000 visitors annually reflecting the appreciation of the rehabilitated lands. Recreationally it provides a safe environment for families to relax and take part in outdoor activities. They have 50km of walking and cycle trails with bike hire available. The sculpture park provides a space of inspiration, art and creativity. Using industrial materials from the bog each sculpture represents a vision for the future of a sustainable environment. In addition there are angling lakes and bird hides to monitor some of the 130 different bird species in the area.
A number of different events are held throughout the year to bring people together to socialise and enjoy the activities on offer. Annual events are organised to appeal to all members of society. These include a fairy festival which aims to offer a magical family day out and features a number of planned activities including a fairy door trail, fancy dress and arts and crafts classes. This year the event even included a world record attempt for the most fairies in one area at any one time! Heritage week events encourage people to explore the habitat through a variety of planned educational activities. There is an annual run with proceeds going to various charities. All of these events foster an increase in community spirit and involvement.
The facility enables many education programs to be delivered due to the uniqueness of the landscape and the biodiversity it holds. This makes it a great venue of school trips and in addition they also host a number of educational classes within the park.
The park is diverse in its habitat with a vast array of flora and fauna. In 2012 it was home to over 940 different species. These species are attracted by the varying landscapes with range from grasslands, wetlands and large areas of the park that have been developed into naturally regenerating open woodlands. It is home to the last remaining population of native Grey Partridge, one of Ireland’s most threatened breeding birds.
In 2016 a revised five year biodiversity action plan was put into place to enable them to realise their goals for future sustainable development whilst valuing natural capital. They want to set the standard socially and environmentally and show how by thinking creatively, nature and economy can sustain each other.
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Mia McCarthy, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager