Government fails to stop illegal lawn cutting 12 years after ban, says conservation group – The Irish Times

Illegal extraction of peat from raised bogs in Ireland located in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) continues despite a ban introduced in 2011, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Based on activity in 2021 and 2022, the problem is worsening as the government remains inactive, according to Pádraic Fogarty, campaign manager for the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT).

People compensated after restrictions were put in place continue to mine peat and peat with immunity, he said.

Ireland’s raised bogs are among the oldest semi-natural ecosystems in Europe and are more than 10,000 years old. Protected by the EU Habitats Directive, they are home to many rare and endangered plants and animals and are Ireland’s largest carbon sink.

Concentrated in the Midlands and west of Ireland, they are unique and Ireland has a disproportionate number of them, Mr Fogarty said.

The figures, released to the IWT by the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage only on appeal to the Information Commissioner, show 330 lots were cut in 2022 and 290 lots in 2021. The sites are patrolled by the National Parks & Wildlife Service.

Most activity has been recorded in Monivea bog in Co Galway (with 49 plots logged in 2022 and 51 in 2021); Barroughter, County Galway (42 and 36); Mouds, Co Kildare (41 and 38); and Callow, Co. Roscommon (31 and 22). The department said the figures were preliminary and would be estimated after an annual survey.

“We shouldn’t have lawn mowers in SACs. The numbers should be zero,” Mr Fogarty said.

The government has been through a process to compensate landowners and turbary rights holders who were housed elsewhere, “but a small group is still going on… There’s a sense of immunity because the government isn’t enforcing the rules,” he added .

The EU Life program tried to support the restoration of raised bogs “while they excavate them further down with excavators. It just seems perverse,” Mr Fogarty said.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Change last month, Environment and Climate Secretary Eamon Ryan expressed concern at the level of annual peat exports – an estimated 500,000 tonnes a year – without planning permission. Analysis by data journalism website found that more than 500,000 tonnes were exported in 2021.

Mr Ryan said: “One of the more immediate problems is that around half a million tonnes of peat is still being exported annually, with no planning permission, no regulation, no oversight and when we look for ways to store it [carbon] and reducing environmental damage that is being done on a large scale could be one of the areas we should focus on first.”

Mr Fogarty said the government needs to enforce the law, “but they don’t want to go there; it is a political hot potato”.

He said the curlew, which is an endangered species in Ireland, and the grouse used to nest on the moors, but that is no longer the case.

Raised bogs have been difficult and costly to restore, and in some cases it has not been possible to repair the damage as mining alters their hydromorphology, drying out the bog and leading to a continuous shrinkage in area.

The IWT had sent all the data it could get to the European Commission, but the EU authorities have been slow to act. The Commission has been conducting enforcement proceedings on this issue for more than a decade. She accelerated her actions because the state failed to halt peat extraction in SACs in September 2022.

Mr Fogarty said the IWT is ultimately relying on the Commission to stop the illegal activities but even if Ireland is eventually fined “it will not bring the Moore back”.

“We would prefer the state to recognize the value of the bogs and protect them,” he said.

He warned that the full implications of the extraction are unclear. A survey of raised bogs revealed that less than 1 percent of them were intact. But that data was old and there hasn’t been an accurate picture of the destruction since the extraction ban on SACs was put in place. Government fails to stop illegal lawn cutting 12 years after ban, says conservation group – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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