IWT calls for sheep to be taken off hills to ‘allow restoration of peatlands’

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) is calling for sheep to be taken off hills to “allow restoration of upland and peatland eco-systems”.

The IWT is calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary, Minister of State with responsibility for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett and Minister of State with responsibility for heritage Malcolm Noonan to take steps to combat the “negative effects to peatlands from animal grazing”.

‘Urgent measures needed to reverse this decline’

Campaign officer for the IWT Pádraic Fogarty said measures need to be taken urgently, but compensation must be paid to farmers in order to do so.

“We’ve had decades of piecemeal measures or, in many cases, total inaction. This has led to the serious deterioration of upland and peatland eco-systems across Ireland,” Fogarty said.

Urgent restoration measures are now needed to reverse this decline and these must include a complete destocking of farm animals from affected areas.

“Farmers and landowners who will be impacted must be compensated, which could include payments for eco-system restoration.”

‘Negative effects from peatland grazing’

Fogarty said that while “the negative effects to peatlands from animal grazing [especially sheep] has been well-documented”, this call by the IWT for “urgent destocking” comes after publication of a study carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

This study examined the Nephin/Owenduff Complex Special Protection Area (SPA) in Co. Mayo. The area is also part of the Ballycroy National Park and is a Special Conservation Area (SCA).

The study, which was carried out in 2019 and involved field surveys throughout the SPA, reported that 97% of the vegetation had been damaged. It also found that the population of golden plover, a bird species for which the SPA has been designated, has fallen by 37.5% since 2006.

‘The scale of peatland degradation’

The IWT said it recently spent time in the Ballycroy National Park, including the so-called ‘Wild Nephin wilderness’ which was launched by Enda Kenny in 2013.

According to the IWT, it found that “commitments to convert the plantation forestry to native woodland, including the blocking of drainage channels and the removal of invasive rhododendron, has not been progressed”.

“We also witnessed the scale of peatland degradation in the SAC/SPA first-hand. This is a great disappointment to the many people and is a missed opportunity for Co. Mayo.”