The Peatlands Council and why An Taisce is bothered about bogs
An Taisce welcomes the Government’s initiative of setting up a Peatland Council to try and resolve ongoing rows over the management of peat bogs in Ireland. Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer of An Taisce, attended the first meeting of the Peatlands Council yesterday. Mr Lumley is representing the Irish Environmental Network on the Peatlands Council, which includes representation from the IFA, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, Irish Rural Link, and the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council. The independent non-statutory Council has been set up to address Ireland’s non compliance with the requirement to protect a sample of bogs for conservation, as required by the Habitats Directive1.
Mr Lumley welcomes the urgency with which this is being addressed, especially in light of ‘expedited action’ coming our way from the European Courts because of Ireland’s ‘wilful neglect’ of duties to protect this rare habitat type. Cessation of turf cutting combined with the necessary restoration of the damaged bogs is a far more economically and environmentally sound option than continuing to long finger the issue, which will result in us having to pay fines for continued non compliance2 as well as still having to deal with the associated problems.
“The reality of multi-million Euro fines that are likely to be imposed by the European Courts, at a time when the country and its taxpayers can least afford them is simply not an option” says Mr Lumley.
Added benefits of peat bogs come in terms of eco-tourism and amenity and the valuable role they play in removing and storing carbon3. The extraordinary and unique biodiversity of these designated bogs4 and the rapid rate of their loss across Europe is why a sample of remaining bogs needs strict protection.
The complex issues of tradition, title and benefit associated with turf cutting on these protected bogs have to be addressed in a positive and constructive way to ensure positive outcomes for all the considerations and stakeholders involved.
An Taisce looks forward to engaging constructively in the Council and to collectively find positive solutions that assist turf cutting communities in a transition to alternative options as well agreeing on priorities for protecting these valuable ecosystems.
For further commentary/clarification please contact: Charles Stanley-Smith, Chair, An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland, 087 2411995
Notes An Taisce, is the National Trust for Ireland, a prescribed body for the purposes of developments and works which impact ecological sites protected in Ireland under a variety of legislation. 1. The Terms of Reference from the Department of the Environment stated the objectives of the Peatlands Council are : “to respond to commitments set out in the Programme for Government and to assist Ireland in responding in a strategic way to the requirements of the EU Habitat’s Directive which requires Ireland to protect and conserve important peatland habitats”.
While Ireland has managed to avoid the imposition of fines up to this point despite the European Commission has clearly signalled an end to leniency by initiating the process of fines in the European Court earlier this year in relation to the first of a long list of judgements against Ireland. An Taisce considers this to be the first of many given Ireland ranks last of the EU 15 for State of progress by Member States in reaching sufficiency for implementation of the Habitat Directive. There are 35 cases currently open against Ireland for failure to transpose or implement EU environmental law, including numerous cases for our failure to protect species and habitats under both the Birds and Habitats Directives.
Irish bogs sequester 57,402 tonnes of carbon per year (EPA BOGLAND project)
Raised bogs are a priority habitat for conservation, requiring particular protection because their global distribution largely falls within the EU and they are in danger of disappearing. Intact active raised bog is extremely rare, having decreased in area by over 35% in the last 10 years in Ireland. Their conservation status here is officially ‘bad’. There are 55 raised Bog SACs in Ireland and 75 raised bog NHAs which are among the best examples of the tiny portion of raised bog habitats left in Europe. The major cause of the loss and degradation of this priority habitat type is domestic peat cutting. Unfortunately, ccontinued turf cutting is not compatible with the conservation of these sites.
- 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.