Significant efforts have been made by the State to resolve the issue of the protection of Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation within the framework of the EU Habitats Directive. This has included the establishment of the Peatlands Council, intensive and on-going engagement with turf cutting interests, the farming community, non-governmental organisations and with the European Commission, as well as the establishment of a long-term compensation scheme for affected turf cutters.
The cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme was established in 2011 for active turf cutters arising from the cessation of turf cutting on raised bog special areas of conservation and was extended in 2014 to include natural heritage areas. It is comprised of a payment of €1,500 per annum, index-linked, for 15 years, or relocation, where feasible, to a non-designated bog, together with a once-off legal agreement payment of €500.
While applicants are waiting for relocation sites to be investigated, prepared and developed, they may, on an interim basis, opt for the annual payment or opt to receive an annual supply of up to 15 tonnes of cut turf delivered to their homes.
From 2012 to date, 18,506 annual payments and 1,150 deliveries of turf have been made in respect of applications received under the scheme for raised bog special areas of conservation at a cost of just under €29.4m. In addition, 1,837 once-off legal agreement payments have been made costing €938,500.
Resulting from a recommendation of the report of the Peatlands Forum held in 2012, the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022 was approved by the Government and published in 2017. The Plan sets out a framework for the conservation, management and restoration of the raised bog network whilst addressing the needs of turf cutters and other stakeholders. The cost of the development of the National Management Plan (including scientific studies on the conservation and restoration of the raised bogs), the National Peatlands Strategy 2015 and the 2014 review of the Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network was approximately €1.923m.
Operational costs for the Peatlands Council to date stand at €0.040m.
The framework for the restoration programme for Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation is contained within the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022. Work on the restoration programme has already begun with a €5.4m project ‘The Living Bog’ which is co-funded under the EU LIFE 2014-2020 programme. The Department is managing this project and is contributing €1.352m as well as expert ecological resources and know-how, with the European Commission providing €4.056m.
In tandem with the LIFE project, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department is undertaking restoration works on State owned lands within the protected raised bog network. Costs to date for these works, including project management of the works, is €0.542m.
I was pleased to recently announce that €7m is being provided in the budget for 2020 for the restoration and conservation of peatlands.