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Publication of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022

Published: 21st December 2017

Josepha Madigan TD, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, today (Thursday) announced the publication of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan 2017-2022.

This is the first national plan for Ireland’s raised bog SAC network and together with the National Peatlands Strategy (2015) and the Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network (2014) form the Government’s approach to the management of Ireland’s peatlands.

Speaking today, Minister Madigan said:
“Ireland has the privileged position of having examples of raised bogs that are deemed be of importance not only nationally, but also on a European and global level. This Plan sets out a roadmap for how our protected raised bogs will be managed, conserved and restored into the future.

The cessation of turf cutting necessary for the protection of our designated raised bogs has had an impact on people’s lives. This Plan strikes an appropriate balance between Ireland’s legal obligation to protect certain raised bogs and the needs of turf cutters, landowners and other stakeholders within these sites”.

The Plan outlines that, where domestic turf cutting has had to cease, financial compensation is being provided and feasible alternatives have been and are being sought. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has provided in the region of €28.7million in compensation to those impacted by the cessation of turf cutting on protected raised bogs and is advancing its efforts to relocate turf cutters to suitable non-designated bogs.

The Plan sets out how the raised bog SAC network will be restored and rejuvenated in a series of phases in the coming years and that the recreational, amenity and educational potential of a number of sites will be explored in conjunction with local communities.

Minister Madigan continued, “It is my hope that the potential of raised bogs as places of wild natural beauty and biodiversity for communities to come together will be realised.

I wish to thank those involved in the finalisation of this Plan for their efforts. Turf cutters and their representatives, non-governmental organisations, the Peatlands Council and State bodies such as Bord na Móna and Coillte have worked with my Department in making considerable progress in finding solutions to meet Ireland’s obligations under the Habitats Directive and to the turf cutting issue.”

The Minister also announced the publication of Irish Wildlife Manual No. 99: Best practice in raised bog restoration in Ireland. Its publication is one of the commitments of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan 2017-2022. It has been prepared in consultation with groups and individuals that have been involved in carrying out restoration on raised bogs in the past. It is intended that this document will provide sound practical guidance to anyone interested in the restoration and management of raised bogs such as landowners and land users, community groups, environmental NGOs and any practitioners involved in undertaking restoration measures.

Further information and a copy of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan 2017 -2022 is available from www.chg.gov.ie and www.npws.ie.

 

Background to the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan:

The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan 2017-2022 is part of the measures being implemented in response to the on-going infringement action against Ireland in relation to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive, with regard to the regulation of turf cutting on the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and on foot of the recommendation of Mr. Justice Quirke that a National Raised Bog SAC Plan be drawn up, arising from the Peatlands Forum (2012). This recommendation was echoed in a motion put forward by the technical group and unanimously adopted by Dáil Éireann on 7 March 2012.

Ireland, like all EU Member States, is bound by the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. These Directives aim to ensure the protection of habitats and species which have been selected for conservation within Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas.
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 Habitats Directive. This has included intense 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.

Core Objectives of the Plan

  • The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan is comprised of five core objectives which are underpinned by a programme of conservation measures and by the setting of national conservation objectives for raised bog habitats. These core objectives are:
  • To understand and describe the conservation status and the ecological and hydrological conditions of our raised bogs;
  • To put in place a raised bog national designated network that will be sustainable into the future;
  • To develop mechanisms to restore and rehabilitate protected habitats within the network of designated raised bogs;
  • To manage protected raised bogs in a manner compatible with their uses and the concerns of stakeholders whilst maintaining their biodiversity and natural function; and
  • To raise awareness and understanding of the benefits and values of raised bogs and encourage community involvement to inform future decisions.
  • Conservation Status of Ireland’s Raised Bogs and Restoration Efforts

Ireland holds approximately 50% of all raised bogs remaining in the Atlantic region of North West Europe. Over 37% of our active raised bogs in the SAC network have been lost in the last 20 years.
The conservation status of bogs has been under increasing pressure due to various land use activities – most notably turf cutting/harvesting and associated drainage. It is estimated that there has been a 99% loss of the original area of actively growing raised bogs; while only about 1,650 ha of the remaining ‘intact’ high bog can now be classified as living, ‘Active Raised Bog’.

Up to 2011 restoration works were undertaken on 47 raised bog sites covering some 2,500ha of land. The site specific conservation objectives now set for all raised bog SACs in the Plan will form the basis for restoration planning at each site by providing a set of targets against which the successes of the restoration plan will be measured. The target for the area of active raised bog in the national raised bog network is set to an area increasing to and not less than 3,600 ha.

In 2015 the Department secured funding under the EU LIFE Programme 2014-2020 for a €5.4m project ‘The Living Bog’ to restore 12 raised bogs in Ireland. This LIFE project will be a positive step forward in efforts to reverse the decline of active raised bog in Ireland and will support the restoration of our peatlands.

Between now and 2020, ‘The Living Bog’ is working on restoring over 750 ha of Active Raised Bog and also improving almost 1,900ha of high bog and cutover habitat.

In addition to the funding for the LIFE project, €9m has been allocated under the Government’s Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021 for peatland restoration. The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan sets out how the raised bog SACs and Natural Heritage Areas will be restored on a phased basis over a number of cycles of the Plan.

As set out in the Plan opportunities exist for the enhancement of raised bogs as sustainable tourism and recreational amenities. Through consultation with local communities and stakeholders through the programme of restoration it will be possible to develop ways to maximise the socio-economic benefit for local communities through conservation and restoration.
Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has currently made 13,349 annual payments, 1,740 once-off incentive payments and 994 turf deliveries under the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme (CTCCS) for raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). This Scheme compensates land owners and turbary right holders affected by the cessation of turf cutting on the 53 raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and is administered by the Department, on behalf of the Minister. In 2014 the Minister extended the Scheme to include land owners and turbary right holders affected by the cessation of turf cutting on 36 raised bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). 655 annual payments and 39 once-off incentive payments have been made under this scheme for raised bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs).

The total expenditure under the CTCCS amounts to over €28.7 million to date. This expenditure is comprised of amounts paid in respect of annual payments, turf deliveries, the relocation of turf cutters, and once-off incentive payments. Further details are available at https://www.npws.ie/peatlands-and-turf-cutting/turf-cutting-compensation-scheme
Relocation to alternative bogs

64 turf cutters have been relocated to non-designated bogs. The Department is currently progressing with regard to the relocation of turf cutters from raised bog SACs to 8 non-designated bogs. It is anticipated that these 8 relocation sites will accommodate approximately 89 turf cutters.
Article 6.3 and Article 6.4 of the Habitats Directive

In certain areas where there is a difficulty in finding relocation solutions for turf cutters , the Department, in consultation with turf cutter interests and within the framework of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) Management Plan, is considering whether the provisions of article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive could be utilised to allow cutting within areas of a number of Special Areas of Conservation. Under article 6.3 of the Directive consent could only be given to cut turf on a raised bog Special Area of Conservation where it can be shown by rigorous scientific investigations that such cutting will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the site.

The scientific work in relation to the possible utilisation of the provisions of article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive is on-going with a view to completion in early 2018.

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