|Need for restoration of peatbogs in Ireland
Peatbogs are home to a range of rare and specially adapted plants and animals. They also purify water, alleviate flooding and help mitigate climate change by soaking up atmospheric carbon. However, the area of active raised bog, a priority habitat for protection in Europe, has decreased in Ireland by over 35% between 1995 and 2005.
It is estimated that between 2% and 4% of this active area continues to be lost every year since then. Only a very small portion of remaining Irish peat bogs are protected through the Natura 2000 network.
Ireland is facing very serious legal action in the European Court of Justice based on a recurrence of the state’s failure to protect peat bogs in Ireland, a problem which has persisted since a previous European Court action was dropped in 2005 over peatland conservation. In January 2011 the European Commission stepped up action to address Ireland’s ‘wilful neglect’ of duties to protect peat bogs. However mechanised extraction of peat has continued on many of the protected peat bogs.
Based on the threat of severe action from the courts, Irish authorities finally took strong steps to prevent further mechanised extraction on the lowland raised bogs in 2012, offering financial compensation or ‘relocation’ to those who wish to extract and use peat from designated bogs. However restoring and maintaining the ecological integrity of the protected raised bogs requires active restoration as well as cessation of peat (turf) cutting.
The Irish government agreed in April 2012 to developing a plan to address these issues, although the plan remains to be written and peat extraction is continuing on other protected upland (‘blanket’) bogs which have not been subject to the same political pressure.
It is not until widespread restoration, in all the protected peat bogs, is carried out that habitat will begin to regenerate, the greenhouse gas emissions from degraded peat bogs can be reversed and bogs can return to their valuable role of carbon sequestration and provision of other valuable ecosystem services. Ireland will need continued pressure and support from European institutions to progress with protection of our precious peat bogs.
Anja Murray, Anja.Murray(at)birdwatchireland.ie