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 aim is to address the needs of turf cutters as part of an overall raised bog designated sites network solution, as set out in the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022. This involves a balance of protecting traditional rights, providing compensation where these rights are curtailed and seeking to facilitate feasible alternatives, where possible, while working to ensure that Ireland meets its legal obligations.
In the region of 2,000 applicants have qualified under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme from 48 of the 53 raised bog special area of conservation sites. There are particular reasons as to there being no qualifying applicants under the scheme for the remaining 5 sites, for example, the lack of turf cutting on these sites during the qualifying period.
For 11 raised bog special areas of conservation, relocation sites have been identified and developed. Some of these relocation sites have been operational since 2013/14 with the most recently developed relocation sites ready for turf cutting to begin in the 2020 season. Relocation sites for a further 6 special area of conservation bogs have been identified by the Department and are at various stages of development. The Department is still investigating suitable relocation sites for 7 raised bog special areas of conservation.
For a number of the special area of conservation sites, the non-designated site identified may not be suitable or may not have the capacity to cater for the number of turf cutters who may wish to relocate there. In such cases and within the framework of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, the Department, in consultation with turf cutter representatives, is considering the available options in terms of relocation and the provisions of the Habitats Directive to provide for turf cutting with certain areas of raised bog special areas of conservation. 14 sites are under consideration for the possible application of article 6 of the Directive.