Ballydangan Bog Red Grouse project is thriving after 15 years

At a time filled with major concerns about biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change, one project in Roscommon is an excellent example of community-based conservation.

The Ballydangan Bog Red Grouse Project, a National Lottery Good Cause, was established in 2009 after the local community became alarmed at the severe decline of ground-nesting birds in the bog where they had spent their youth.

“I’m a member of Ballydangan Game and Conservation Club”, said Pat Feehily, who manages the project on a daily basis.

“Back in 2009, Pat Dunning and I were in Ballydangan one evening, discussing the grouse that used to be there when we were young lads. We were saying it was a terrible thing to see the grouse dwindling away”.

Coincidentally, Pat Feehily, who is a Community Employment supervisor, received an email at the time from the employment and training agency FÁS (now Solas), saying they were looking for a unique project to support.

A team of like-minded local conservation enthusiasts emerged and applied for funding to develop the Red Grouse project at Ballydangan.

“We were awarded four CE scheme places,” said Pat. “So we could put four participants working on the project to help us out with the work that had to be done on it.

“One of our committee members, Dr David Scallan, prepared a management plan, and we learned from him what had to be done to get Ballydangan in shape for sustaining grouse on it”.

The committee, comprised of members of Moore Game and Conservation Club and the local community, with additional support from local farmers, successfully approached the landowner Bord na Móna for an initial five-year lease on the 800-hectare bog. David Fallon, an ecologist working with Bord na Móna at the time, helped the group and has remained involved with them since.

“It’s been slowly gathering speed ever since”, continued Pat. “We realised that the work involved in looking after Red Grouse was also helping other ground-nesting birds. We noticed that we had two Curlews living on the site, coming in springtime and rearing chicks, and we looked after them as well. Now, we’re up to seven breeding pairs. We also have Snipe, Lapwing, and Meadow Pipit; all the smaller birds are multiplying down there.

“It has worked very well. We’re getting results with chicks on the ground. That’s basically the pay-off for us – seeing young chicks and seeing them develop. Our grouse population is small but stable, but we’re hoping to translocate a couple of pairs of grouse from another area into Ballydangan to improve the bloodlines”.

Between nest protection, cutting heather (the mainstay of the grouse diet) to ensure its rejuvenation, providing grit stations to aid their digestion, and maintaining walkways and footbridges for visiting tours, work on the raised bog is year-round.

Supported by National Lottery Good Causes funding through the Heritage Council, the project has also developed long-standing partnerships with Moore District Community Employment Scheme, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Bord na Móna and Roscommon County Council.

“As the years progressed, we decided that education and letting people know what we were doing down here in Ballydangan would be essential to the project, so we started inviting school and college tours, and they are keeping us busy, too.

“We’re very focused on raising awareness of the project because there’s still way too many people who don’t understand the importance of what we’re doing, but we’ll get there. We have strong local support and motivation and have been successful in receiving support from several organisations/agencies. Ballydangan is now a core Irish raised bog site for breeding Curlew and Red Grouse,” says Pat.

Today the project is managed by Moore Community Council, Moore Game Club, Roscommon Regional Game Council in conjunction with Bord na Móna, the National Association of Regional Game Councils, Solas/Department of Social Protection, the Heritage Council, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and Roscommon County Council. The project has been also supported by the Local Agenda 21 (Environmental Partnership) Grant Scheme.