The Muddy Bog

A Sleán for cutting turf

I walked down the muddy steps, one step, two-step then I walked on a thin wooden platform and I had to catch my balance, wow that was slippery. I caught my balance and I thought to myself how lucky I was that I did not slip and fall into the muddy bog in front of my professors and classmates. Tom handed me a two-sided spade called a sleán (pronounced slawn), which is used to slice blocks of peat from the bog. A bog is a wetland that accumulates peat, which is a deposit of dead plants. A bog is formed when a lake or land with high precipitation slowly begins to fill with plant debris, then new plants grow on the decomposed plants. Bogs create a refuge for a wide range of plants, birds and invertebrate species and are commonly used for grazing sheep and cattle. As Tom handed me the sleán I angled it into the muddy bog, slowly and gently I cut off part of the bog.

Turf drying

Then I gently picked up the sleán and placed the muggy block known as turf (dried sod) onto the grass outside the bog. After placing five or six sods of turf onto the grass they were leaned up against each other in a teepee shape and were laid out in the sun to dry; this is called footing the turf. Once the turf is dry, it is brought into homes or stored in sheds, this turf is then used as fuel to heat up homes. While turf is able to provide heat, are many negative aspects to using bogs as a main source of energy. At the Killary Sheep farm I was told that bogs are partly renewable energy they take hundreds of years to develop, and will not be ready to harvest in one person’s lifetime. Once the habitat is destroyed it can take centuries for the bog to recover from disturbances. Not only does this destroy the habitat of many species but turf also heavily fuels climate change. The turf consists of water, and organic carbon, which was built up over thousands of years and when the turf is suddenly exposed to the air, it decomposes and turns into carbon dioxide which is then released into the atmosphere. Besides the bogs taking a long time to actually grow, bogs can also be a major fire hazard. Peat fires can burn for quite a long time especially if oxygen is present. Is it really worth destroying the earth just to heat up one household? As I placed the cube of turf onto the grass I thought about how it is now going to take over 100 years just to regrow the few cubes of turf I removed from the ground, it will heat a household for a few hours but is that really worth it?

The burning turf

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