15/01/2014: GOVERNMENT PUBLISHES LONG TERM STRATEGIC PLAN FOR IRELAND’S PEATLANDS
GOVERNMENT PUBLISHES LONG TERM STRATEGIC PLAN FOR IRELAND’S PEATLANDS
• Three major documents which – for first time – set out long term vision for protection of a sample of Ireland’s unique bog habitats
• Strategy recognises range of uses for peatlands including turf cutting
• Meeting national conservation targets, while addressing the needs of affected communities, is Government approach
• Natural Heritage Area raised bog network reconfigured to avoid impact on 80% of turf cutters, improve conservation result, reduce impact on taxpayer
Wednesday, January 15th – Following approval by Government, Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has published three documents – a draft National Peatlands Strategy, a draft National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) Management Plan, and a Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs).
These documents set out – for the first time – a strategic, long term vision for the protection of Ireland’s unique bog habitats whilst also recognising the tradition of turf cutting. The documents are available on the Department’s website and views of the public are invited before 18 April, 2014.
Minister Deenihan commented:
“Since the Habitats Directive was signed in 1992, Ireland has lacked a coherent, long-term vision for our peatlands. This package of documents now sets out that vision. These documents clearly recognise that turf cutting is a valued traditional activity that will continue, but that the State must also meet conservation obligations.
“Most of our peatlands have been altered by human activity over the centuries, but there still exist areas of unique, but threatened, habitats. For all our benefit, we need to protect and preserve a sample of these for ourselves and future generations, whilst also working with communities that are affected by conservation requirements.”
Firstly, the draft National Peatlands Strategy, sets out a cross-governmental approach to managing peatlands including compliance with EU environmental law, climate change, forestry, flood control, energy, nature conservation, planning, and agriculture. The strategy also sets out proposals for the development of a new regulatory regime for turf contractors.
Secondly, the draft National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan provides for the future restoration and management of the 53 raised bog SACs and was developed arising from a motion in Dáil Éireann in March 2012, put forward by the Technical Group and unanimously supported by all members. The draft sets out the approach to how each of the raised bog SACs is to be conserved and restored and how the needs of turf-cutters can be addressed. The draft plan also proposes that a number of Bord na Móna owned bogs be put forward as compensatory SACs to make up for the loss of habitat through turf-cutting since the SACs were originally nominated for designation.
Thirdly, the Review of Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) sets out a significant reconfiguration of Ireland’s NHA raised bog network to meet conservation targets whilst reducing the impact on the taxpayer by ensuring that the smallest number of turf cutters are impacted:
1. This reconfiguration will improve conservation outcomes by increasing the area of endangered habitats within the network of sites.
2. It will also exclude the most heavily cut sites from the network, avoiding any impact on over 80% of active turf-cutters currently in the NHA network from over 3,000 to around 500.
3. Turf cutting on 46* NHAs will be able to continue and the Minister will proceed towards de-designation of these sites.
4. Turf cutting will be phased out on 36* NHAs over three years with the introduction of an individual permit system immediately.
5. Conservation management plans will be in place for all raised bog NHAs by 2017.
6. 25 new sites will be proposed for designation as raised bogs NHAs to replace the habitats lost through de-designation of the more heavily cut sites. Many of these are in public ownership or have relatively few or no turf cutters.
7. Any turf-cutter required to cease turf-cutting on an NHA will be offered compensatory measures similar to those available to turf-cutters from raised bog SACs. Compensation will be made available immediately to active turf-cutters on these site.
The new NHA network will contain more active and degraded raised bog habitat (which is capable of being restored) than the existing network. It will therefore have significantly better restoration prospects while also avoiding, to a significant extent, areas that are subject to intensive turf-extraction. Extensive areas of Bord na Móna land of conservation value will also be included within the NHA network.
Comparison of current and new raised bog NHA network
Active Raised Bog (ha) Degraded Raised Bog (ha) Total Active and Degraded (ha) No of Sites* Approx No of Active turf plots
Current NHA Network 284 410 694 75 3,091
New NHA Network 290 475 765 61 518
Minister Deenihan commented:
“If we can meet our conservation targets in a way that impacts on fewer people, and reduces pressure on the taxpayer, then that is the type of pragmatic approach that I believe we should take.
“When I came into office Ireland was on the cusp of legal action in the European Courts for failure to implement the law. Since then, we have introduced a compensation scheme and paid out more than €7 million, established a Peatlands Council, held a Peatlands Forum, and worked with the more than 2,800 turf cutters who have stopped cutting turf on protected bogs.
“Now we need to put in place the long term vision that will consolidate the progress that we have made and ensure the preservation and restoration of our most valuable bog habitats, which make up a small percentage of our peatlands. We will also bring more joined-up thinking to decision making on the future use of our peatlands and certainty to those that use them for different purposes.
“These documents set out how, working together, we can do this. I would like to thank the Peatlands Council for the key role it has played in this process, and again encourage all stakeholders to engage with my Department so that we can continue to make real progress.”
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will write to members of the public in the coming weeks. Notices will also appear in national and local newspapers.