The Government is establishing an independent non-statutory Peatlands Council 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.
Conor Skehan, a lecturer with DIT’s School of Spatial Planning, has been appointed as chair of the Council. As a former director of Bord na Mona he has experience of the peat sector. His consultancy experience in EIA and Habitats legislation gives him an overview of the legal and scientific issues which the Council will be dealing with.
Other members are being invited from the IFA, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, the Irish Rural Link, a representative of the Irish Environment Network, Bord na Mona and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Raised bogs in Ireland contain rare and threatened natural habitats that are protected under National and European law. A small number of raised bogs are on sites that are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). Raised bogs have almost vanished due to land reclamation, drainage and turf extraction. These sites are among the best examples of the tiny portion of such habitats left in Europe. The scientific advice available to the Government is that continued turf-extraction and conservation of these sites of European importance are incompatible.
The European Commission has been critical of Ireland’s approach to the protection of peatland habitat and initiated infringement proceedings against Ireland in January this year.
The previous Government decided that turf cutting should end on 31 raised bog SACs from 2010 and on a further 24 raised bog SACs from the end of this year. In the light of that decision, and the requirements of the Habitat’s Directive, the Peatland Council will be tasked with advising the Government on a number of key actions. These include:
* The drawing up of a national strategy on Peatlands conservation and management within 12 months, in consultation with bog owners and other stakeholders, to deal with long-term issues such as land management, restoration, conservation, tourism potential, carbon accounting and community participation in managing this resource.
* In the context of the national strategy, to draw up an agreed national code of environmental practice in regard to turf-extraction in designated sites, including a re-examination of the position regarding raised bog Natural Heritage Areas, which are protected under national legislation and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, in advance of the 2014 cutting season.