A key element of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, approved by the Government and published by my Department in December 2017, is to maintain active raised bog habitat and restore degraded raised bog habitat to active raised bog habitat.
The national restoration programme for Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas is contained within this Plan. It was intended to restore all designated raised bogs within 3 cycles, with the first cycle operating for the duration of the Management Plan.
The raised bog designated sites restoration programme can now be accelerated due to the announcement in Budget 2020 of €5 million for peatlands restoration.
Restoration plans for each of the 53 raised bog special areas of conservation have been drafted, to be developed further in partnership with stakeholders including landowners and local communities. Site specific restorations plans for the raised bog natural heritage areas are currently being developed by the Department using the most up-to-date scientific methodologies available and best practice models gained from other restoration projects.
Restoration plans have been designed to ensure that the impact of the restoration works to surrounding agricultural lands is kept to a minimum. By raising the water table it is not intended to flood the land but, rather, to ensure that it remains wet enough to encourage the growth of sphagnum moss, which assists in the formation of peat within a protected site.
In order to help allay concerns in relation to the potential impacts of restoration on areas of land adjacent to the designated bogs, the Department is in the process of developing drainage management plans for the majority of the raised bog special area of conservation sites as part of the restoration programme. Landowners and other stakeholders are being consulted as part of this process on a site by site basis.
Work on the raised bog designated sites restoration programme has already begun with a €5.4m project ‘The Living Bog’ which is funded under the EU LIFE 2014-2020 programme. The Department is managing this project and is contributing €1.352m, as well as ecological expertise, with the European Commission providing €4.056m.
The Protected Raised Bog Restoration Incentive Scheme is operating on a pilot basis on the 12 ‘Living Bog’ special area of conservation project sites. The scheme is available to eligible landowners and turbary right holders whose lands are within these special areas of conservation or on the fringes of the special areas of conservation but linked hydrologically or ecologically and where it is considered that compensation should be made available to gain access to lands for the restoration works and/or for any loss arising from the impact of these works.
The scheme provides for the payment of once off amounts to eligible landowners and turbary right holders, the voluntary purchase of lands or the entering into a management agreement with the landowner.
Applications to the scheme are being considered on a site-by-site basis. Applicants are required to complete an application form and provide proof of title to the land or turbary right.
To date, under the pilot scheme, there are 36 applicants with payments processed to the value of €303,168, with payment offers made to a further 28 individuals.
If the pilot is considered successful, on review, it is intended that it will be rolled out to the remaining 41 raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas, in due course, as the national restoration programme is advanced.