Europe orders peat extraction on protected Irish moors to stop

IrelandD has been given one last chance to stop peat extraction on protected moors in a new ultimatum from the European Commission.

In a statement issued yesterday, the government was told it had two months to resolve the issue or legal action could follow.

The commission found that some measures had been taken to stop cutting in areas designated as Special Protection Areas (SACs), mainly through compensation to peat cutters for the loss of sod rights.

“However, cutback activities are ongoing and enforcement actions appear to have stalled,” it said.

“Restoration activities have begun in some raised bog SACs, but this is progressing too slowly given the importance of this priority habitat and its precarious condition.

“Regarding SACs for blanket bogs, there does not appear to be a regime controlling ongoing clearing, with clearing for domestic use being exempt from control.”

It has been 11 years since the Commission first approached the Irish authorities about the problem, which breaches European law under the Habitats Directive and national rules.

The commission said it was now issuing a notice “after a long dialogue”.

“The European Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aim for the EU to stop biodiversity loss through the protection and restoration of biodiversity,” it says. “In addition to the biodiversity value, peatlands are vital carbon sinks when healthy.

“Protecting and restoring them will help Ireland meet its climate change goals not only by keeping the peat in the ground, but also by avoiding the very high carbon emissions and other air pollution emissions that occur when peat is burned.”

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), who have taken cases to court over industrial and domestic peat extraction, welcomed the move to increase pressure on Ireland.

The group first raised the issue with Brussels in 2010, but after an early warning letter, the commission “pressed the snooze button,” it said.

FIE director Tony Lowes said he hopes the resumption of enforcement proceedings will finally force authorities to act, adding that ending peat extraction is the “low-hanging fruit of emissions reduction”.

“The comparisons to the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest are becoming more accurate,” he said.

A ban on the sale of peat by retail outlets is due to come into force next month as part of cleaner air initiatives, and it was hoped this would remove some of the incentive to continue peat extraction.

However, cutting for domestic use and selling to neighbors can continue.

Environmental groups have long argued that small-scale peat extraction in sheltered bogs stays under the radar, as its effects cause major damage over years.

The notice was one of three issued to Ireland for breaches of environmental laws.

A notice names the country as one of 11 EU member states that have failed to fully transpose the Single-Use Plastics Directive, a step that is due to be completed by July last year.

Another cites Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland for failing to present a long-term national strategy to achieve carbon neutrality.

Member States should submit strategies by January 2020 outlining how they would work towards the target over the next 30 years.

“Stable long-term strategies are crucial to support the needed economic transition and sustainable development goals and move closer to the climate targets set in the Paris Agreement,” the commission said.

The Ministry of Environment has been asked for comment. Europe orders peat extraction on protected Irish moors to stop

Fry Electronics Team

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