Data from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and acquired by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) under Freedom of Information rules, show that mechanical turf-cutting continues to be a widespread issue on Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in Ireland despite the practice being unlawful since 2011.
Under the EU’s Habitats Directive, 57 sites have been designated as SACs specifically for their raised bog habitat. This is one of the rarest habitats in the world; in Ireland the extent of ‘active’ raised bog (i.e. where wet peat was still growing) was mostly recently calculated at a lamentable 0.6% of its original extent.
However, this figure is now likely to be significantly smaller. The details sent to the IWT (and available upon request) show that of the 57 SACs, turf-cutting was monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at around one third of the sites (18 SACs) in 2021.
At total of 282 plots were cut across all SACs in 2021, nearly the same as the 286 which were cut in 2020.
These included Mouds Bog SAC in Co. Kildare, Barroughter Bog SAC and Ardgraigue Bag SAC in Co. Galway, Cloonchambers Bog SAC and Callow Bog SAC in Co. Roscommon, Clooneen Bog SAC in Co. Longford and others have been cut every year since 2012 (as far back as the requested figures went).
It had previously been confirmed to the IWT by the Department that in accordance with the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, turf cutting may not take place on raised bog SACs unless with the prior consent of the minister”. Our FOI request showed that no such prior consents were granted in 2021.
Peatlands in Ireland are not only unique habitats for rare species but play an important role in storing carbon and in regulating flood water run-off. They are a significant part of our heritage and are frequently important amenity sites. However, when peatlands are damaged through drainage, turf-cutting, animal grazing or forestry, these processes go into reverse. It is particularly distressing therefore so see that even in the small number of ‘protected areas’ peatlands continue to be destroyed under the noses of the authorities.
IWT campaigns officer Pádraic Fogarty says “As the government heads to Scotland for the COP people need to know that we are still losing our most biodiversity and carbon rich habitats to illegal activity in areas where peat extraction was supposed to have been ended a decade ago. Despite the great speeches we’re likely to hear, the destruction of nature is on-going and shows little sign of abating. Last year we highlighted this issue with Minister Malcolm Noonan, the minister in charge of the NPWS, as well as the European Commission however neither body seems inclined to take any action.”