A peatland is simply an area where peat is found. It will consist of a layer of peat at the surface which has accumulated naturally over thousands of years.
Peat, or turf, as it is often referred to in Ireland, is a type of soil that contains a high amount of dead organic matter, mainly plants that have accumulated over thousands of years. It takes approximately a staggering 10 years for 1cm of peat to form! Through analysis of the soil, the types of plants that grew, died and accumulated to form a piece of peat can be discovered.Dead plants in peatlands are different to other ecosystems as they do not fully decompose. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi are prevented from rapidly decomposing the dead plants as the waterlogged conditions reduce the amount of oxygen in the soil.
Even within somewhere as small as Northern Ireland different types of peatlands have developed due to varying conditions of climate, soil type and plant species. The variations in our peatlands can include the plants that grow there, the colour and composition of the peat, the water content and the amount of nutrients the peat contains.
The wet conditions characteristic of peatlands are unfavourable for certain animal groups, but provide ideal conditions for others, especially those with an aquatic phase in their life cycle, such as dragonflies. The limited range of bog plants limits the diversity of plant-eating animals (herbivores), while the lack of nutrients such as calcium can limit the amount of vertebrates and shelled molluscs. Invertebrates such as beetles, moths and dragonflies are better adapted to the conditions and many are resident throughout the year. Few mammal species, apart from the Irish hare and the red deer, are permanent residents of peatland.
The wet nature of peat generally deters burrowing animals such as the fox from taking up residence, but they will be found along the edges of peatlands in search of food. The lack of predators and human disturbance makes some peatlands ideal for birds to nest and bring up their chicks. The abundance of insects, spiders, and frogs, plus the amount of nutritious vegetation and berries provides food for several species.