All the Fun of the Bog…

Clara bog blog picClara Bog is situated about 2 km south-east of Clara town in Co. Offaly. The Visitor Centre for Clara Bog is co-located at the library in Clara. The Midlands Science festival team is delighted to be hosting some school events at this venue for 2015..We caught up with Therese Kelly, Education Officer at Clara Bog Visitor Centre to find out more….

Clara Bog is perhaps the best remaining example of midland raised bog in Western Europe. Why do you think it would be well worth a visit?

Clara Bog is a very important part of our natural and cultural heritage. It is an ancient place that was over 10,000 years in the making! People have been connected to bogs for hundreds of years as sites for sacrifice, hiding precious jewellery, storing food and obtaining fuel but connecting with the bog as a nature reserve and recreational space is a relatively recent phenomenon. A walk on Clara Bog can promote a good sense of wellbeing. It is peaceful place full of unusual plants and creatures. It is the most studied bog in Europe and is also recognised as an important international wetland. Learning all about Clara Bog and spending time there reveals the marvels of this unique place.

What can one expect to see on a typical visit?

One of my favourite things about Clara Bog is that no visit is typical! The colours of the bog change with the seasons as do the creatures that live there. During spring hare’s-tail cottongrass give the appearance of a snowscape as their white fluffy seed heads blanket the bog. This is also a time of great bird activity as mating territories are being set up. Meadow-pipits and skylarks are a common sight swooping and soaring and it’s a wonderful opportunity, especially for school groups, to hear the lengthy lilt of skylarks that were once a common sound in the Irish countryside.

Migrant birds such as swallows and swifts can also be seen flying high in the sky catching insects to eat. Summer is marked by the bright pink and yellow flowers of cross-leaved heath and bog asphodel. Of course summer is also the best time to see the variety of insect life. Many dragonflies can be seen and indeed heard defending bog pool territories. Bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies visit the flowers near the boardwalk to find sweet nectar to drink and in the process transfer pollen and keep the web of plant life in motion. They must be careful though as the sticky tentacles of the sundew plant may trap and indeed digest them. If you are lucky you may see a lizard basking on the boardwalk, a kestrel hovering over your head or even a raft spider walking on the surface of a bog pool!

The rare Curlew nest on the bog and from the boardwalk visitors may hear their evocative call that is both unmistakable and unforgettable. Indeed one may even witness this large brown bird with a curved beak flying over the bog. As the full flush of biodiversity eases and autumn draws in visitors can experience a serene stroll accompanied by a rich floral tapestry of purple ling heather and orange seed heads of bog asphodel as they stretch across the bog. Both autumn and winter are a great time to view the many colourful species of sphagnum moss. Also known as the bog builder, sphagnum moss forms a rich mosaic on the bog’s surface comprised of green, red and orange colours. It is indeed the life support system of a raised bog as it is the main peat forming plant. If you take the time to stop and look around you may even notice the signs of native wild animals such as the Irish hare, pine marten and fallow deer as they leave their droppings on the bog.

You also have a special visitor Centre in Clara town, can you tell us a bit about this?

The Visitor Centre opened in 2010 to help interpret the significance of Clara Bog and peat lands in general and why some such as Clara Bog are being conserved. There is a multi-media exhibition space consisting of information boards, short documentaries, interactive touch-screen displays and models of plants, animals, birds and invertebrates. The exhibition space is designed with both children and adults in mind and encourages our sense of exploration and discovery. The Visitor Centre also provides free primary educational tours that reflect strands in the SESE curriculum. It is also an accredited Discover Primary Science & Maths (DPSM) Centre. On a DPSM workshop the children work together in teams as mini scientists. They use microscopes, balances and other scientific equipment as they conduct investigations which help them better understand the workings of Clara Bog and its inhabitants. The tours are designed to be engaging and fun. An ecology field trip is available to secondary level students. For more information or to book a tour teachers can contact the Centre 057 9368878.

Why do you think events like the Midlands Science Festival are so important?

The Midlands Science Festival is so important because it provides a platform to celebrate how diverse, interesting and significant science is in our lives and in the world around us. Fostering a love and understanding of science in children is especially important for they are the scientists of our