To coincide with World Wetlands Day earlier this month the first on-line Map of Irish Wetlands1 has been launched by wetland ecologists Dr Peter Foss and Dr Patrick Crushell of Wetland Surveys Ireland.
Wetlands that occur throughout Ireland include areas of bog, fen, swamp, wet woodland, salt marsh, lakes, rivers and lagoons. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of the services provided by these most valuable and threatened ecosystems such as flood prevention, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation. However, in the opinion of Foss and Crushell, the value of wetlands across Ireland is not yet fully appreciated and sites continue to be damaged by drainage, infilling, peat cutting and other activities. The map has been launched in an attempt to highlight the occurrence and value of wetlands throughout the country and increase awareness amongst the general public.
The main aim of the Map of Irish Wetlands project is to provide the user with information relating to wetland sites across Ireland. The location of each site is displayed over Google Maps and additional information presented on each site includes: site name, wetland habitats present, ecological interest, and source of additional information.
During the course of their work as ecologists, Foss and Crushell noticed an absence of easily accessible information relating to wetlands in Ireland. Up to now such information has only been available in technical scientific reports. For the first time much of this information has been gathered into a single easily accessible archive.
It is envisaged that the map will prove useful to community groups, schools and other bodies involved in promoting the natural heritage of their areas. In time, it is also hoped that the map will become a useful resource for professionals in the planning and environmental sector. The map should ensure that all wetland areas, regardless of whether they are given formal legal protection, are considered in the decision making process when it comes to land management and planning.
To date over 3100 discrete wetland sites have been mapped. While this may seem to be a high number, when one considers that approximately 10% of the country can be classed as wetland, it is likely that the current map only shows a small fraction of the sites that exist. Of the wetlands that have been mapped, only 30% are formally listed for protection by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Despite the known importance of wetlands and the requirement of authorities to protect them, only a few counties know the extent of their wetland resource2. According to the developers of the map ‘it is crucial that a survey of wetlands be undertaken at a national level as it is impossible to protect the resource without first knowing its true extent’. Only after a survey of wetlands is undertaken can the relevant authorities carry out their functions in trying to protect these important habitats.
The map is a work in progress and will be progressed further in the coming years as more information becomes available. There is also a facility on the website for members of the general public to submit new records or additional information on a wetland site.
To date no funding has been received in the development of the map and both Dr Foss and Dr Crushell have developed it using their own resources in a voluntary capacity.
1The map can be viewed at either of the following website: www.WetlandSurveysIreland.com
2The following counties have commenced surveys of their wetland resource: Cavan, Clare, Kildare, Laois, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Sligo, Westmeath, and Wicklow.