Only an ambitious Nature Restoration Law will deliver for Irish peatlands

15 December 2022

A report from the Environmental Pillar highlights that a new EU law could present a golden opportunity for Ireland to meet its national commitments for peatland restoration while investing in farm communities to protect peatlands. 

The proposed Nature Restoration Law contains a range of actions and targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore nature across Europe on farmland, in forests, in our rivers and seas, and even our cities. Of particular importance to Ireland are the targets linked to the restoration of peatlands and improving the management of drained peat soils. The overall objective of the Nature Restoration Law’s targets for peatlands is to improve land use with a view to delivering a reduction in greenhouse gases and other environmental benefits. Rewetting projects on farmland that raise the water table even by small increments can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions without necessarily halting productive farming activity. 

However, there has been a negative reaction to the Nature Restoration Law proposal among some rural TDs and farming representatives, who claim that the targets for rewetting of organic soils in agricultural use are overly ambitious. The Environmental Pillar’s report has found that the EU Nature Restoration Law targets up to 2030 are unambitious when compared by Ireland’s own adopted targets for rewetting and peatland restoration. For example, the Climate Action Plan 2021 has already committed Ireland to targets for reduced management intensity of grasslands on drained organic soils by 2030, which are three times greater than the targets set by the proposed Nature Restoration Law. Even the Department of Agriculture’s own Ag Climatise Roadmap has set targets that are almost double that of the proposed law. The proposed Law also contains provisions which allow for peatland restoration on cutaway bogs to offset the need for action on farmland, further underlining that the targets aren’t overly ambitious.

The Irish government has a unique opportunity to shape the Nature Restoration Law, which is currently being negotiated in Brussels, to ensure it matches its own high ambition to restore peatlands. This is a crucial opportunity to add clarity to our own national peatland restoration targets and leverage a new source of EU restoration funding to set Ireland on the road to achieving those goals. We call on the Irish government to lead in these negotiations and maximise the opportunity for the country and deliver long-term support required to deliver improved land management,” said Fintan Kelly, Agriculture and Land Use Policy and Advocacy Officer, Irish Environmental Network.

A European Commission impact assessment of the new law found that Ireland ranks fifth overall within the EU when it comes to the economic benefits per citizen of implementing the Nature Restoration Law. For peatland restoration the economic benefit is estimated between seven and eight times the cost, based on the economic value of services such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved water quality, flooding mitigation and habitats for biodiversity. Investment will also disproportionately benefit farmers on marginal land who are most in need of financial support. 

Tristram Whyte, Conservation, Policy & Fundraising Officer at the Irish Peatland Conservation Council said: “We need higher ambition if we are to realise the reversal of biodiversity decline and achieve effective sustainable management of our peatlands. The Nature Restoration Law will help to reach the rewetting and restoration targets that we have already agreed to, by increasing the funding available to support farmers and others in making the change to more sustainable practices. We cannot expect to reverse the climate and biodiversity emergency by only focussing on a few protected peatland sites, we need to manage the wider landscape. Land managers are key in implementing the right actions but they need the right supports which the Nature Restoration Law will go some way in providing”.

Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy, BirdWatch Ireland said: The destruction of Ireland’s wetlands, in particular our bogs, has had a devastating impact on Irish wildlife with the breeding populations of once common species like Curlew having decreased by over 95% since the 1970s. Ireland has demonstrated leadership in supporting results-based agri-environment schemes but inadequate funding is hampering ambition. The current ACRES scheme is over-subscribed which shows that farmers on the ground are keen to play their part to restore nature. We need government to go one step higher now to lead on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape an ambitious nature restoration law for the country.” 

Peatlands are the most important terrestrial ecosystem on the planet when it comes to carbon sequestration and are essential in Ireland for their role in supporting climate resilience and threatened biodiversity. The Environmental Pillar’s report ‘Supporting greater ambition for Ireland’s peatlands in the Nature Restoration Law’ is available here.  

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