January 2019 eZine
Message from the Chair - January 2019
Happy New Year. I hope that 2019 brings all that you hope for.
Let me be blunt. We need your help. I know that you receive a lot of requests at this time of the year but, if I don’t ask now, there is a real danger that An Taisce will not be able to continue the work it has been doing for over 70 years.
We have a very broad remit. Indeed, that is our great strength. However, with this comes a great deal of work and a great amount of cost. We have a dedicated group of volunteers and staff who achieve much on a very limited budget, but we badly need additional funds. We could also do with help in tackling some of the many jobs that continually crop up around Tailors Hall and elsewhere.
The whole funding model for organisations such as us has changed. We are attempting to address this via our new website, which will not only keep you up to date on what we are doing but also make it easier for the public to support us.
If you can make a donation we would be very pleased; Any donation over €250 brings with it additional tax benefits. You can donate online at http://www.antaisce.org/donations or by contacting Susan (Monday - Thursday) at 01 707 7076
If everyone could get just one additional member that would go a long way towards keeping our work going.
Please consider either or both of the above.
Natural Environment Work 2018
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
Each Natural Environment Officer (NEO) that join’s An Taisce’s advocacy team comes with their own special contribution. Elaine McGoff has a strong background in WATER and has hit the ground running last year. We thought you’d be interested to hear of the breadth and depth of An Taisce’s work in this area.
In 2018 the unit dealt with 240 applications for forestry and picked up some particularly damaging projects in sensitive Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments on the Iveragh Peninsula and others that would impact an area of hen harriers but for our appeals. Elaine is involved on a work package with Fintan Kelly from Birdwatch, looking at how to implement forestry in a more environmentally friendly way. The unit also dealt with 300 applications for aquaculture with the same again expected in 2019.
Another important project has begun in collaboration with other environmental organisations on the implementation: challenges and opportunities, of the Floods Directive, which works alongside exploring OPW work on the Bandon Flood alleviation project and other dredging works, such as in Tipperary, and in the Shannon. Strong submissions were made on 3 flood plans and on a new Abstraction Bill that appears to be weak. Work continues with SWAN on the Water Framework directive.
The detailed list of works below /attached illustrates is a fascinating account of how much we do on very limited funding…and how much we’d be missed if we don’t find ways to bring in more money!
- 240 forestry responses from across the country.
- There have been 4 Natural Environment interns to date, Annie, Laura, Kieran and Jane. Kieran is currently working and we’re in the process of recruiting an additional intern.
- Elaine appealed one licence approval, in a Hen Harrier area, where they had failed to acknowledge that it was in a SPA referral zone.
- Doireann and Elaine attended An Taisce’s first oral hearing in Portlaoise. This is a new structure which is in place. We presented our evidence and were notified that our appeal was upheld.
- Our office has been in regular contact with Richard O’Callaghan from KerryLIFE regarding any forestry proposals in sensitive Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments on the Iveragh Peninsula, where KerryLIFE is working. This helps to inform our response on the forestry applications in this area.
- Elaine has met a few times with Kevin Collins, the senior environmental inspector in the Forest Service. This is helpful in establishing a dialogue, and allowing our organisations to work more effectively together.
An Taisce had a deluge of aquaculture applications this year, the majority from March-July. This has slowed down considerably since then. We responded to > 300 of these. In one instance we received over 100 in a single day. This is a result of the Dept. trying to clear a backlog, and rush through licence applications. This follows on from a freeze in granting licences because of an ECJ ruling against Ireland. The grounds for this legal action have now been resolved, hence the slew of applications. We haven’t appealed any yet, but there was several for Castlemaine Harbour in Kerry which we would have, but they were refused by the Dept. In addition, there were a few for Wexford harbour which we are awaiting a decision on. If they are granted we have very strong grounds for appeal. The Dept. has announced that there will be a further 300 licence applications processed in 2019, so we can expect more of the same next year, although hopefully it won’t be so concentrated. This was a huge undertaking for the NEO office, and dominated a large amount of time.
WORKING WITH OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL NGOS
- Work continues on the Floods Directive implementation: challenges and opportunities, which Elaine got funding for from the IEN n collaboration with 5 other environmental NGOs.
- Elaine is also involved on a work package with Fintan Kelly from Birdwatch, looking at how to implement forestry in a more environmentally friendly way.
- HERITAGE BILL This passed in to law, despite our best efforts.
- An Taisce worked with Birdwatch, IWT, the Beekeepers and the Hedgelayers to lobby to prevent this becoming law, but we weren’t heeded.
- The NEO did a couple of radio interviews and press releases on this, but to no avail.
- DREDGING AND FLOODING
- In tandem with the project on the Floods directive the NEO office has been doing a lot of behind the scenes work on the Bandon Flood alleviation project. The OPW are carrying out work there which appears to be environmentally destructive. We are investigating this to try to establish how best to address it legally.
- NEO has been chasing down data from the OPW for months, which they have been reluctant to share, via AIEs and by cc’ing the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on these emails. The NE office now has much of this monitoring data, and it has been digitised, but remains to be analysed. From a brief scan, it would appear that at least some of the suspended sediment loads were elevated, in keeping with the visual reports submitted by ECOFACT consultants
- An Taisce are working with Will O’Connor from ECOFACT, who has been documenting these works by photos and videos, and with Sinead O’Brien from SWAN. These data will be analysed very early in the new year.
- We are also investigating other dredging works, such as in Tipperary, and in the Shannon, again by means of AIE requests to the OPW. This will be further investigated in 2019.
- SUSTAINABLE WATER ACTION NETWORK (SWAN) WORK
- Elaine was elected as a member of the Board of Directors of SWAN.
- NEO has continued to work closely with SWAN regarding the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and other water issues.
- Sinead and Elaine are working with Attracta from ELIG to establish what would be involved if legal action was necessary on WFD grounds. This may be necessary if any of the floods work will impact on the WFD status of rivers.
- NEO has had 3 flood plans referred to her, and one of those was on a high status waterbody, so a robust submission was made on that. NEO has raised the issue of this high status waterbody in person with Martin Hehir, principle officer in the Dept. of Housing, who are charged with the implementation of the WFD. He promised to investigate it, and knew nothing of it.
- The WFD is undergoing a fitness check. NEO is working with SWAN to engage in a European Environment Bureau (EEB) campaign around this. NEO attended an EEB water working group meeting, and EU water conference in the Autumn of 2018.
- An Taisce and SWAN are working closely to ensure the protection of waters.
- Forestry and Freshwater Pearl Mussel (FPM) plan. Elaine sent in a detailed and damning submission on this. The Forest Service’s proposal was deemed to be entirely unfit for purpose by the leading FPM experts in Ireland, and as such An Taisce highlighted these flaws. (http://www.antaisce.org/articles/submission-on-draft-plan-for-forests-freshwater-pearl-mussel-in-ireland)
- Abstraction Bill. The Dept. of Housing are pushing through some legislation regarding the licensing of abstraction in Ireland. Their proposed licencing system is very weak, and could be far more rigorous, in line with what is in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland. An Taisce’s submission highlighted this.
- Marine Spatial Plan consultation. An Taisce have submitted a detailed response to this, with input largely from Ian Lumley, and with relevant sections by Elaine.
Doireann has sought Elaine’s input on certain planning applications with an ecological concern. These range from in-river works, the Kerry Greenway, windfarms, forest roads etc.
NEO was elected to the Biodiversity Forum as the Environmental Pillar representative and elected to the Hen Harrier Consultative Committee, as the Environmental Pillar representative.
Data Centres - An Taisce's Response 2018
The annual growth in the storage of electronic data is a major global climate and energy consumption issue. To date 5 planning applications have come before An Taisce for our observations. Our response is outlined below.
A recent statement from the Government opened on “Ireland’s ambition to be a digital economy hot-spot in Europe.” and the contribution of data centres to job creation “and support activities in locations with no physical/geographic connection to the data centre.”
However it was also acknowledged that, “as large consumers of electricity, data centres also pose particular challenges to the future planning and operation of a sustainable power system”.
The main focus of the policy is to “align enterprise electricity demand with generation capacity and transmission planning "with data centre development in regional locations outside Dublin The strategy proposes“ A plan-led approach to develop a range of measures to promote regional options for data centre investment, minimising the need for additional grid infrastructure.
AN TAISCE’S SUBMISSIONS
The document proposes that data centres above a particular threshold will be reclassified as strategic infrastructure development and Government was also reassessing judicial review timelines on planning decisions. Meanwhile An Taisce has had 5 applications before it in recent times and has made a number of submissions. These focus on the mitigation that is required to take account of the climate emissions arising from the electricity use required if we are to heed:
The objectives of the Climate and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, which incorporates the principle of “Climate Justice”.
No explicit consideration is given in the government’s statement to the meeting of Climate targets with data centres described as having a “desire” for “green” electricity, rather than it being a mandatory requirement, and that a policy of promoting data centres ”could” increase the pace of renewable transition without any provision being put place to require energy sourcing of new data centres to be sourced entirely from new renewable capacity.
The equitable per capita carbon budget for a developed nation.
The benefit of net emission reduction in Ireland’s 2020 target of 40% renewable electricity generation is being undermined by rising energy demand, as the effectiveness of a percentage based target is diminished by rising consumption, including the increasing development of Data Centres.
The sustainability of any new data centre can only be achieved, either by direct renewable energy on site or off site with dedicated grid connection, or a dedicated renewable addition to the grid to at least the level of the total annual generating capacity required by the development.
An Taisce recommends that information always be sought on the level of energy use required to serve the proposed development, the specific sourcing for the proposed energy use, and the measures proposed to ensure that the project will not create any increase in electricity generation causing greenhouse gas emissions.
THE LESSON FROM DENMARK
Denmark is has been a European leader in renewable electricity generation over the last two decades. However the active promotion of data centres is now undermining its renewable energy targets.
Current data centre development in Denmark which will be accelerated over the next decade is projected to increase emission by 10% to 2030 https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/news/data-centers-will-increase-denmarks-carbon-footprint/
If data center energy consumers either seek or are required to be sourced from renewable energy sources, this undermines the availability of increased renewables for existing electrify consumption in a constrained supply market. An increase in renewable use in the existing electricity market is already needed for the greater 2030 decarbonization targets to be met . Denmark has not put in place the scale of measures needed combine the achieving of this combined with new data center demand, or even demonstrate that there is viable capacity in additional wind generation to do so.
Submission on EMRA RSES
The Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly (“EMRA”) Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (“RSES”) should provide a long-term regional level strategic planning and economic framework in support of the implementation of the National Planning Framework (“NPF”) and the economic policies and objectives of the Government.
The RSES should address in greater detail at a regional scale, identifying regional assets, opportunities and pressures. Distributing future population growth and development across the region in a balanced manner.
It is essential that the RSES acknowledges a global environment of increasing climate impact and ecological destruction.
It poses the challenge of accommodating the projected increase in the needs of the region’s current and future population are met (access to high quality housing, jobs, sustainable modes of transport) and provides for the overall health and wellbeing and advances the quality of life of the citizens.
It requires clearly stated, implementable and legally enforceable targets to meet these objectives, in tandem with Strategic Environmental Assessment (“SEA”), Appropriate Assessment (“AA”) and Strategic Flood Assessment (“SFRA”).
The RSES should be committed to making the Region’s cities, towns and villages healthy, attractive and sustainable, and improve the citizens quality of life both now and in the future.
The RSES should be a progressive tool for defining a core set of spatial principles for allocating resources and developing a human environment consistent with the overarching meta-governance challenge of the coming century, emphasise the need to rapidly decarbonise and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 in order to avoid the worst impacts of anthropogenic global warming and be a tool for fostering environmental, social and spatial justice in adapting to the inevitable consequences of climate change and resource depletion.
Significant Submission on Burning Regulations
The controversial Heritage Act is back in the public realm again, as the public consultation on the draft regulations and guidelines on the Burning Regulations has just closed.
It is currently an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn any vegetation growing on any uncultivated land from 1 March to 31 August, but the Heritage Act 2018 allows for a relaxation of the dates of the closed period for the burning of vegetation, extending it in to March, in certain circumstances and locations.
Section 7 (1) of the Act purports to outline the regulations which would allow for the controlled burning of vegetation in the month of March. However, the regulations are ambiguous at best, and don’t give any specific detail about where the burning will be allowed, under what circumstances it will be permitted, or how it will be controlled.
Additionally, the regulations undermine, and in many cases would appear to overlook, some of our most important environmental legislation.
While the Minister made assurances last summer that there would be no damage to wildlife from this Act, the obvious lack of detail in these regulations would contradict that statement. Wildlife considerations are not a major feature in these regulations, indeed they are barely acknowledged.
Environmental NGOs, including An Taisce, have repeatedly raised concern that allowing for burning in March will be detrimental for many of Ireland’s most sensitive species, particularly for birds who begin nesting in March. These include the iconic curlew, and the seriously threatened Hen Harrier, both of which are on the brink of extinction, and nest in scrub habitats. This Act could well push them over the edge.
The Heritage Act was controversial from the get go, and faced huge public opposition. It would appear that this was justified. These regulations do not instil any confidence that Ireland’s wildlife is not seriously at risk.
Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce, stated
‘These regulations seem to ignore some of our most important environmental legislation, and the legality of burning under these regulations must be called in to question. Landowners must be aware of the legal implications if they carry out the burning without the necessary environmental assessments. It is the Government’s duty to highlight these obligations, one which it has entirely failed to do’
‘In the face of huge public opposition, the Minister has produced a set of regulations which are ambiguous, are not legally binding, and would appear to have no real way to either licence or control burning in March. They are essentially a carte blanche for landowners to burn as they see fit’
‘I would have no faith in these regulations for providing any wildlife protection. Once again the Minister has ignored the concerns of environmental NGOs and the public at large. These regulations are failing our hugely threatened and precious Irish wildlife.’
An Taisce's full submission available here: http://www.antaisce.org/sites/antaisce.org/files/an_taisce_burning_regulations_submission.pdf
For further information, contact:
Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce: +353 85 715 3796
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
The Heritage Act
Under Section 40 Wildlife Act vegetation on uncultivated land and any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch is protected during the period March to August, inclusive. Section 7(1) of the Heritage Act (2018) will introduce changes to section 40 of the Wildlife Act, which will permit, under Regulation, the “burning of vegetation” in March.
About An Taisce
An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.