National Parks and Wildlife Service (Ireland)
Funding support: State funded by Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
Number of staff: 2 seasonal education guides
Number of visitors per year: 20,000
Overall aims of the centre
Clara Bog Visitor Centre promotes the conservation of Clara Bog and other designated peatland sites through effective communication and by building trust with local communities and encouraging and harnessing local pride in the bog to promote its importance to a wider audience.
Description of the centre
Clara is found in north County Offaly in central Ireland. The Visitor Centre has multimedia interpretative facilities for Clara Bog Nature Reserve. The following themes relating to peatlands are explored; geography, history, archaeology, human interaction, ecology and conservation. Exhibitions are interactive for children and designed to encourage their natural sense of exploration. Information is presented in both the Irish and English language.
The Centre accommodates pupils, tourists and visitors. The Reserve is 460 hectares in size. There are fine examples of hummocks, hollows, lawns, pools and flushes; all classic components of a raised bog. Another special feature are the soak systems that support a more diverse plant life than in the surrounding bog. Bog woodland is present.
A variety of sphagnum mosses, cladonia lichens, cotton grasses, heathers, cranberry and carniverous plants such as sundews, butterworts and bladderworts, are some of the plants to be seen. In 2014 wave-forked moss which was thought to be extinct in Ireland, was re-found on Clara Bog. Speciality invertebrates include the marsh fritillary butterfly, dark tussock moth, large heath butterfly, two rare midges and a click beetle.
Commonly encountered creatures include dragonflies, butterflies, moths, raft spiders, frogs, newts and lizards. Key bird species are breeding curlew and merlin. Kestrels, skylarks and meadow pipts are often seen. During winter hen harriers and peregrine falcons have been observed hunting over the bog.
Occasional mammals include fallow deer, pine marten, foxes, otter and Irish hare. Clara Bog is a State owned Nature Reserve, a Special Area of Conservation forming part of the Natura 2000 network and a Ramsar wetland.
Main CEPA work areas
We provide free primary and secondary education programmes to pupils. During summer we also provide recreational activities for children. They are all peatland themed and include nature walks, pond dipping, arts n’ crafts, film and summer camps.
For adults (professional and public) we host peatland based ecology workshops, lectures and documentaries. We use social media (Facebook and You Tube) to reach out and engage with the public.
We liaise and participate with local community groups and schools on projects and to raise awareness of the important role of peatlands and their biodiversity, for example see you-tube clip.
Top three successes
We have a looped wooden boardwalk across the bog with interpretive signage and this has allowed visitors and school children to safely experience and enjoy the naturally wet environment. Without intention the boardwalk has also become a much used local amenity for walkers seeking fresh air, space, beautiful scenery, quiet and exercise. We are delighted that the boardwalk can bring local people in close contact with the biodiversity in our unique habitat while at the same time promote a healthy benefit.
Our free education programmes are tailored to integrate State curriculum modules of science, history and geography subjects through the medium of learning and exploring a raised bog. Our site transforms to become an outdoor classroom. We feel that marketing to schools in this way will better promote visiting the site and so far feedback from teachers has been very positive.
We have found Facebook to be a great resource in promoting Clara Bog and our work to a wide audience. Frequent posting keeps our messages fresh. It is also a great way of advertising our events beyond our locality and a positive way to network with other environmental groups.
Top three challenges
There is 2 km distance between our Visitor Centre and our Peatland site. We get far more visitors to the site than the Centre and would like to balance this better. It is difficult to keep local families interested in returning to the Centre unless we can continually facilitate new activates to engage them which is not always possible due to our level of resources.
We would like to develop more expertise in marketing the Centre to tourists.
We are located in a town that does not receive many tourists and we have to work very hard to encourage tourists to visit here especially as we are of niche interest.
Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails
Setting up a new visitor centre; Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre; Building / maintaining structures
Working with disabled people; Engaging hard-to-reach groups; Engaging young people; Engaging the local community; Working with volunteers
Education and communication
Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Working with secondary schools; Developing resources / materials
Auditing / assessing effectiveness; PR and marketing; Running effective administration; Health and safety; Fund-raising; Project planning.