Peatlands Park, close to the southern shores of Lough Neagh, was the first of its type in the British Isles and was specifically established to promote and facilitate peatland awareness and issues.
The peat here has been forming for about 10,000 years. The site was acquired in 1978 from the IPDC (Irish Peat Development Company) and the Park was officially opened in 1990. Visitors can explore the 265 hectare (680 acre) site on foot along its many paths and wooden walkways. In fact there are over 16km (10 miles) of paths leading the visitor through the many and varied habitats within the Park.
Amongst the attractions in the Park are an outdoor turbary site where visitors can observe (and smell) traditional turf cutting techniques. The Park is rich in insects, particularly butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies. Many woodland and wetland birds and several species of waterfowl nest here. Red and grey squirrels, badgers and hares are also present, while lizards and newts can be found in the open bog areas.
Within the park are two National Nature Reserves, declared in 1980 for their unique flora and fauna species, many of which are found nowhere else in Northern Ireland. Annagarriff (meaning rough bog) is a 77 hectare reserve comprising of wooded drumlin hills separated by areas of regenerating cut over bog. Of the four wooded hills, one is a very ancient site with no record of ever having been cleared for farming. One of the most interesting sites in Annagarriff must be the huge mounds of plant debris up to 1m high and 2-3m across. These hills have been built by Wood Ants and are the only Irish site for this species.
Mullenakill (meaning church on the hill) is a 22 hectare uncut remnant of a much more extensive bog which has been growing here for over 8,000 years. Core sampling carried out on the bog indicates that the peat is 9m deep. Watch out for the annual NI Bog Snorkling Championships- a family fun day with the chance to try your hand at a unique sport which involves competitors completing two consecutive lengths of a 60 yard (55m) bog drain in the shortest time possible. Definitely one for the family photo album!