20 Jul 2023

In 2020, Pillar 3 of LIFE IP Peatlands and People began working on the People’s Discovery Visitor Experience, a large-scale attraction that seeks to provide new opportunities and perspectives for Ireland’s midlands by positioning the region as a powerhouse of biodiversity awareness and climate solutions. In the context of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, the Discovery Experience will act as a metaphor for change and renewal while demonstrating practical steps to regeneration and sustainable living.

Central to any visitor experience is the promise of fun, wonder and awe. The unique flora and fauna of the boglands, particularly sphagnum moss, will be included in the magnified natural setting.

The attraction will draw on the work of pioneering photographers and observers such as Tina Claffey. Local environmentalist John Feehan has been influential and generous with his vision for a genuine encounter with the unseen world.

A key goal of the Discovery Experience is to honour peatland heritage, while exploring opportunities for the future. The team considered other peatland attractions in the region that showcase unspoilt raised bogs and local heritage. It became clear that the Discovery Experience should focus on the future - a transformed relationship with nature and a future economy supported by tourism, education, and enterprise.

Meetings with local people and community leaders have supported co-creation. The Discovery Experience will build on local knowledge of the bogs and peatland ecosystem services while facilitating meaningful local involvement in the development of the attraction. Community consultation has influenced the governance and ownership structure of the Discovery Experience. While operated on solid commercial principles, the ethos and governance structure will be that of a social enterprise and registered charity.

Research colleagues in the University of Galway and other institutions have documented the climate benefits and ecosystem services associated with peatland restoration. As well as a visitor’s attraction, the Discovery Experience will include a “Climate House”, a space where sustainable businesses can incubate and grow, and a centre for peatland and environmental research. Climate Houses reflect real public interest in making sustainable choices for food, transport, energy, and sustainable living. The team have considered how the generation of renewable energy on-site can become a showcase in its own right and provide a best-practice example for application in different locations and contexts.

While primarily a tourist attraction, the Discovery Experience will have educational value for students of all levels in disciplines such as tourism, environmental science, climate change and marketing.

As planning for the People’s Discovery Visitor Experience continues, the focus is now on applying the knowledge gained on the ground to effectively deliver a world-class experience for 250,000 annual visitors and to make a long-lasting positive contribution to the midlands of Ireland.