EU Legal Action on Peat bogs a 'Political and environmental time bomb'

16th June 2011
Press Release

The European Commission has today announced a further step in legal proceedings against Ireland by delivering a formal request to take urgent and concerted action to protect Ireland’s peat bogs.

The reasoned opinion specifically addresses continued mechanical peat extraction on protected peat bogs, which Ireland gave assurances to the European authorities would cease in 1999. The need for environmental impact assessment of potentially damaging activities in peat bogs is also addressed. This was the subject of an EU court of Justice ruling in 1999. The reasoned Opinion expresses doubts about the effectiveness of recent efforts to cease peat extraction on a number of the protected bogs.

An Taisce has repeatedly stated that ‘the only option to comply with the Habitats Directive and the EIA regulations and to avoid further court action and hefty fines for long term systematic non compliance is to cease turf cutting on all 55 raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and the 75 bog Natural Heritage Areas(NHAs)without further delay’. This will requiremore targeted and concerted efforts from government to address this major issue which the conservation organisation describes as ‘a political and environmental time bomb’.

Raised bogs are a priority habitat for conservation under the Habitats Directive, requiring particular protection because they are in danger of disappearing. There are 55 raised Bog SACs in Ireland and 75 raised bog NHAs, as well as designated SAC, SPA (Special Protection Areas for Birds) and HNA blanket bog sites bogs in need of actual protection. These bogs are among the best examples of bog habitats left in Europe[1]. As well as their nature conservation value, peat bogs are major stores of Greenhouse Gasses[2] in Ireland and can contribute much to flood control in many catchments. The action being taken now relates to raised and blanket bogs and ‘systematic’ breaches by Ireland of legal instruments to protect this valuable environment.

A letter of formal notice was sent to Ireland by the European Commission in January of this year announcing commencement of proceedings for Ireland’s ‘wilful neglect’ of duties to protect these peat bogs. Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer of An Taisce, is on the Peatland Council set up by government in April of this year to respond to the need for urgent action on peatland conservation.

Through the council and in meetings with Minister Jimmy Deenihan, An Taisce is actively pressing for the immediate cessation of extraction in all protected bogs coupled with a range of positive actions to restore designated bog sites and to facilitate those displaced by the cessation, which An Taisce insist will result in significant economic savings in the medium term[3]. An Taisce is promoting sustainable and long term solutions which foster renewable alternatives to peat as a fuel. Combined with managed cultural and recreational use of peat bogs, this will contribute far more to the collective common good than the short term economic gain from exploitation by contractors using mechanised extraction.

For further commentary please contact Ian Lumley, An Taisce 01 7077064 or Charles Stanley-Smith, An Taisce Chairman, on 087 2411995

EC Press Release announcing the Reasoned Opinion: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/730&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

ENDS

[1]Because of the very nutrient poor status of waterlogged peat, raised bogs contain wonderful flora and fauna that have had to adapt to the extreme conditions to survive there. Many are found nowhere else. Sundew, for example, has sticky little tentacles that catch little insects which the plant then eats by secreting an enzyme to digest the insect. Three different types of sundew live among the brightly coloured Sphagnum mosses that typify bogs. Bog rosemary, cranberries, bog myrtle and bog cotton, all characteristic of raised bogs, also have amazing adaptive strategies. It is the remarkable characteristics of bog ecosystems and the rate of their loss throughout Europe from over exploitation that gives rise to their inclusion in Annexes of the Habitats Directive.

[2]Irish bogs sequester 57,402 tonnes of carbon per year (EPA BOGLAND project)

[3] A range of options to cease turf cutting have been examined by government, and the scientific advice is that “immediate cessation of turf cutting on all SAC’s and NHAs is recommended as the most appropriate from a nature conservation perspective. The phasing out approach…will involve further losses of priority habitat in the medium term and a permanent significant decrease of the potential to restore such habitats”. The report goes on to state that “although this option will result in the highest short-term economic cost, all the other options have similar or larger economic costs in the medium term” Assessment of impacts of turf cutting ion designated raised bogs, NPWS, 2006