The State has a legal obligation under the Habitats Directive and under the Wildlife Acts to protect sites that it has designated for conservation purposes. In Ireland a number of sites have been designated for the protection of raised bog habitat within Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). These make up just over 4% of bogland in the State where turf-extraction is feasible.
Scientific evidence has shown that turf cutting and associated drainage is incompatible with preservation or the restoration of active raised bogs or degraded raised bog. For this reason, in May 2010, the Government confirmed the ending of the derogation which allowed a 10-year continuation of turf-cutting on raised bog SACs and NHAs. Cutting is no longer permitted on the first 31 of these sites, without my express consent. Similar measures will be introduced on a further 24 raised bog SACs from the end of 2011 and on 75 raised bog NHAs in 2013.
It is not possible to reconsider the ending of the derogation period. Ireland has a clear legal obligation to protect these sites. To fail to do so would risk infringement proceedings against the State with possible significant financial sanctions. In May 2010, the Government announced the closure of the Bog Purchase Scheme to new applicants but decided to complete purchases for the existing applications, subject to contract. An Interim Compensation Scheme was also established to compensate those who have been cutting turf on the above-mentioned 31 raised bogs sites. This interim scheme provided €1,000 to qualifying applicants for this year.
The Government also requested my Department and the Office of the Attorney General to undertake further work in regard to how the interests of affected parties can be addressed in the longer term. This work (including examining the issue of alternative bog non-designated bog plots) is ongoing and I intend to revert to Government in relation to these issues shortly.