Location & Visiting
Clara Bog is in Co. Offaly. The bog is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a statutory Nature Reserve, established in 1987. It covers approximately 460 hectares, and is situated about 2 kms south-east of Clara town. The Visitor Centre for Clara Bog is co-located at the library in Clara. Access to the bog is along the Clara to Rahan road (New Road). There is a car park on the left-hand side, and opposite, a trackway into the bog.
Visitors are recommended to stay on the trackway provided. To the east along the N80 there is another guided walk which takes in the eskers and Doory Wood.
Clara Bog is a naturally wet environment with many concealed dangers. Stay on the boardwalk. As with any outdoor activity, dress appropriately, be prepared for bad weather, and make sure someone knows your return plans. Please leave Clara Bog exactly as you would wish to find it. The Nature Reserve is home to many protected wildlife species. It is an offence to disturb these wild plants and animals.
Clara Bog is perhaps the best remaining example of midland raised bog in Western Europe. It has been said that you can experience ten thousand years of history in the ten square miles that accommodate Clara Bog. This refers to the influence that the last Ice Age had on the Irish landscape. To the north of the bog, an esker runs in an east-west direction. Eskers were laid down by retreating glaciars over 10,000 years ago. These glaciars would also have scooped out a low-lying area south of Clara which would have become a shallow lake. Approximately 8,000 years ago, this lake would have become overgrown with reeds and in time the area would have gradually turned into a fen, and then, as decyaing plant growth chokes the fen, mosses take over and the bog is born. The bog lays down so much peat that it becomes raised above the surrounding landscape. This gives it a dome shape and its name. It differs from blanket bog which is found in upland regions. Raised bog is much deeper.
Clara Bog contains fine examples of hummocks, hollows, lawns, pools and flushes; all classic components of a raised bog. Typically a bog becomes mildly acidic. At Clara, there are soaks which are considered an important part of what makes Clara Bog special. These soaks are mineral-rich pools and small lakes that are fed from groundwater and rain, and support alkaline plantlife.
Most boglands are acidic, poor in minerals and waterlogged, so Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum cuspidatum), and other mosses dominate. Common Cottongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium), Deergrass (Trichophorum cespitosum) and other sedges, Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Cross-leaved Heath particularly around the pools, along with bladderworts. Scrub woodland with Downy Birch occurs around the fringes. To the east there are some coniferous and mixed woodlands. The esker ridges are rich in grassland wildflowers, including wild orchids.
The drier areas of the bog are dominated by heather and this provides good cover for Red Grouse, Snipe and Curlew. The wetter areas and pools offer perfect breeding and feeding sites for various insects, most notably dragonflies (such as hawkers, chasers and skimmers) and damselflies. It is also rich in moths and butterflies (the Large Heath, for example, depends upon raised bog), newts, lizards and frogs. Clara Bog is the only known site for two rare midges, and a click beetle. The small bird of prey, the Merlin, breeds here. More common bogland birds include the Meadow Pipit and Skylark. Otters and hares also seen.
Conservation and Management
Turf-cutting and drainage will degrade any bog habitat, as will fires. At Clara, restoration work has had a positive impact in sustaining, and in some areas, adding to, the levels of good quality active raised bogland. Understanding hydrology (the relationship between water and land in terms of water table and drainage, etc.) is key to the survival of any bogland, as water is the lifeblood of a bog. Blocking off drainage ditches is one of the key parts to the management at Clara. We can play our part too by respecting this delicate environment. Take great care on the bogs, and stay on the boardwalk. Keep all dogs on a lead, take all your litter away with you, and never light fires near peatlands.
The Nature Reserve is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service; part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
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