Current Research Projects

Halting biodiversity loss: the potential of High Nature Value farming in north-west Ireland

Supervisors: Dr. James Moran (IT Sligo) and Dr. Mike Gormally (NUIG)

Students: Pamela Boyle and Margaret Hayes

This is a collaborative project between NUI Galway and IT Sligo. High Nature Value (HNV) farming is low intensity farming associated with a high diversity of semi-natural habitats and species. Despite the fact that the majority of biodiversity throughout Ireland and the European Union (EU) is formed and managed by agricultural practices, there have been very few actions taken to protect this important resource. The project investigates HNV farmland biodiversity and its management from field to landscape scale.  The project aims to provide a suite of indicators that can be used by agricultural planners, farmers and other interested parties for the identification and monitoring of the extent and quality of HNV farmland in Ireland. Management recommendations for HNV farming will also be produced which may be used to contribute towards increasing overall biodiversity of farms.

Landscape scale identification of HNV farming will focus primarily on the use of remote sensing techniques. The part of the project aims to construct a GIS model which can be used with aerial photographs as these are the most accessible imagery available for agricultural planners, etc who may use the system in future. This will be ground truthed by carrying out plant community analysis on selected farms. In addition to this, it is envisaged that butterfly and bird data will be collected at a farm level and will be incorporated into a suite of indicators which can be utilised for the identification of HNV farmland. The focus of the work at field level centres on an investigation of the terrestrial invertebrates of HNV farmland. Diptera and Carabidae will be sampled extensively on selected sites. Data will be analysed to determine how HNV farming practices influence terrestrial invertebrate and associated plant communities with the aim of developing a suite of indicator species of HNV quality.  

It is hoped that by the end of this project that an easily understood, accessible HNV farmland identification tool or key will have been developed and tested. This can then be used by agricultural planners and farmers alike, who will then be able to easily identify and manage areas of biodiversity importance. The role of HNV farmland will become increasingly important as the focus of the Common Agricultural Policy shifts towards ‘green’ payments. Ireland has great potential to benefit from this refocusing. It is therefore essential that adequate identification and monitoring methodologies are established by the time the new policies are implemented to maximise the gains. This project will build towards advancing the status of HNV farmland in Ireland. This will contribute to putting Ireland to the fore in terms of sustainable agriculture within Europe.

Ecological restoration and assessment of carbon sequestration potential of cut-away peatland

Supervisors: Dr. James Moran (IT Sligo) and Dr. Catherine Farrell (Bord na Móna)

Student: David Fallon

Bord na Móna began harvesting peat to generate electricity from the Oweninny Works (Bellacorick and Bangor bog areas) in Mayo in 1961. Since 2003, peat production from the Oweninny Bogs ceased and a large scale rehabilitation plan was designed and implemented by Bord na Móna. The main aims of the rehabilitation programme were to ensure environmental stabilisation of the former industrial peat production area once peat production stopped.

Following the cessation of peat production and the implementation of the rehabilitation plan between 2003 and 2005 (drain blocking, wetland creation, terracing to mitigate erosion etc; Farrell 2003) a number of changes have occurred on site largely due to re-vegetation and habitat creation.

Vegetation development on the former industrial peat harvesting sites is important as vegetation stabilises these sites and prevents any remaining peat from being eroded and washed off the site either by water or wind erosion. Pioneer vegetation on the former production areas at present is dominated by poor fen and embryonic bog communities (Sphagnum dominant habitats) with fragmentary emergence of dry heath, scrub, and areas of open water. Bare peat is still a feature in certain areas within the site. In these areas no vegetation has been able to become established since peat production finished on the site.  However, the emergence of Sphagnum dominated poor fen indicates that there is significant potential for part of the site to revert to a peat-forming system. Greenhouse Gas Studies on the rehabilitated cutaway bog at Bellacorick indicates that parts are indeed reverting to peat-forming system and that as such, are returning to carbon sequestration systems. 

This study aims to:

  • Determine the recovery and status of vegetation cover on the Oweninny industrial cutaway Atlantic blanket bog areas after rehabilitation of parts of the site over past 6 to 10 years
  • Identity the main plant communities and determine the current extent of peat-forming conditions and the potential extent into the future.
  • Identify areas and potential measures within the rehabilitated area that require further work in order to enhance the carbon sequestration potential.
  • Estimate the current and potential carbon sequestration capacity at the site.

High Nature Value Farmland Ireland Project 

This is a collaborative programme between The European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP) and IT Sligo with funding provided by The Heritage Council and the European Commission. The project is lead by Gwyn Jones and Patrick McGurn (EFNCP) with support from James Moran (IT Sligo). The project seeks to develop the HNV concept in Ireland through demonstration of the possibilities for locally targeted sustainable management programmes for High Nature Value Farmland in Ireland. To date the project has focused on three focal areas the Aran Islands, Connemara and South Kerry. The 2010_2011 work programme has culminated in the completion of an EU LIFE Nature application for funding on the Aran Islands. Through this application process the project partners brought together a range of government agencies and departments (Údarás na Gaeltachta, Teagasc, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Galway Co. Co., Fáilte Ireland and the Heritage Council), and the local farming community under a common goal to achieve sustainable management of the islands’ rich natural heritage. For more details on HNV farmland and farming in Ireland and across Europe see and Links to reports and presentations of IT Sligo staff related to this work can be downloaded at and

2019/20 Fulltime Prospectus IT Sligo