The EU Nature Restoration Act threatens the Irish model, the committee warned

A forthcoming EU law aims to “completely reverse” Ireland’s decades-old agricultural model of reclaming peat soils for productive agricultural use, the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee has heard.

Iall Curley, policy adviser for biodiversity, soil and water at Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ representative body, said the EU Commission’s proposed Nature Restoration Bill will also result in the government’s annual target of 8,000 ha, planting trees “impossible to reach” and land given away will “explode” prices.

Speaking before the committee, Mr Curley said the proposed regulation, which is currently under consideration in Member States and is due to be implemented between 2024 and 2026, will legally require Ireland to restore an estimated 150,981 ac wetlands nationwide, the majority of which are agriculturally drained peatlands as “poor condition”.

Agriculture Ministers Charlie McConalogue, Pippa Hackett and Martin Heydon did not respond to our requests for comment on the proposal.

Mr Curley said: “This bill includes targets for restoring 70 per cent of all agriculturally drained peatlands in the EU by 2050; with 35 pieces for rewetting.

“However, the Commission does not distinguish between ‘restoration’ and ‘rewetting’, so while the target says ‘restoration’ it actually means 70 per cent rewetting by 2050.

“The Commission proposes the law and the member states have to implement it.

“How they do that is up to them, whether it’s forcible expropriation to buy land to create a certain number of national parks, or forcible rewetting of certain areas.

“Once they come into force, they have a legal obligation to meet area-based targets – if they don’t they can be sued.

“Each Member State would have a ‘national recovery plan’, like a CAP strategic plan, by 2050,” he said, adding that Sweden and Finland “have already objected”.

From an Irish perspective, Mr Curley said that “only 20 per cent of the total target can be taken by land rewetted by Bord na Móna or by reforested peatland”.

“This law will primarily affect areas where land for mother milk and sheep farming has been drained at the edges of bogs to ensure the land becomes more waterlogged by blocking or removing drains.

“We were told as a model to drain land across Ireland, particularly peatland – that was the guiding principle of agricultural wisdom – and plant forestry on peatland for additional income.

“Now even the wooded bogs are expected to be restored to some degree, so it’s a complete reversal of what we were trying to do.”

While the law in Ireland focuses on peatlands, it also covers other EU relevant habitats including forests, agroecosystems, dunes and marine habitats.

Asked how this could affect Ireland’s current reforestation targets, Mr Curley replied: “Forestry will no longer be allowed in wetlands and therefore the target of 8,000ha per year will be almost impossible, per year or every two/three to achieve / four years.” The EU Nature Restoration Act threatens the Irish model, the committee warned

Fry Electronics Team

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