In keeping with the recommendations of Mr. Justice John Quirke, on 7th of March last year, Dáil Éireann agreed a motion put forward by the technical group to “engage actively with the European Commission to seek a resolution within the terms of the Habitats Directive, and to prepare and submit a National Raised Bog Restoration Plan to the Commission as a matter of urgency”.
Following the motion, I immediately secured the agreement of Environment Commissioner Potonik to the development of a National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan.
The plan will set out the approach to the future restoration and management of each of the SACs, and may unlock some flexibility, within the terms of the Habitats Directive, to address the most difficult of sites, where relocation alternatives for turf-cutters may be limited.
To progress the preparation of the plan, my Department engaged a team of specialists - RPS - to provide the scientific basis for raised bog conservation in Ireland. RPS has been working with my Department and the Peatlands Council to prepare a National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan, a draft of which I hope to make available for consultation before the end of the year. Further information on the work of RPS can be found at www.raisedbogrestoration.ie .
The draft plan will include a number of case studies to illustrate the scientific approach that will be needed for the restoration of all 53 raised bog SACs and to address concerns regarding implications for surrounding land. The surveys will involve site visits to verify drainage systems and to take other scientific measurements. I would like to make it clear that this is a scientific survey and that no restoration work is to take place during this survey. I would also like to make it clear that no future restoration work will be carried out on any raised bog SAC without full consultation and engagement with stakeholders.
This is set out clearly in the documentation which has been produced to guide this process, which is available to the public on www.raisedbogrestoration.ie. The Raised Bog Conservation Study SEA Scoping Report states:
The development of a National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan was recommended by Mr. Justice John Quirke in his report following the 2012 Peatland Forum. A national plan was also called for in a unanimous Dáil vote in 2012. The purpose of the plan is to provide the ability to explore whether there are any other options available for those sites where relocation is genuinely not possible. It also indicates how the 53 SACs are to be restored and managed into the future, which will be done in full consultation and partnership with those who own the bogs and surrounding land owners.
For the avoidance of all doubt, what is being conducted at the moment is a scientific survey. Comments in the local media from some parties about a risk of flooding arising from this simple scientific survey are unfounded. I am happy to reassure all partners in this process that this is a scientific survey and any future actions that might be proposed arising from it will only be considered in consultation with the local community and landowners.
I would therefore encourage all turf cutting committees, property owners and stakeholders to engage with this very preliminary assessment, so that an informed discussion can begin on the future management options for each site.