Concerns remain among farmers over how the restoration targets proposed under the EU Nature Restoration Law (NRL) could impact food production on Irish peat soils.

The proposed law currently hangs in the balance as a vote by the Council of Ministers (member states), to give the final rubber stamp, has been postponed as it appeared a majority would not be reached.

The text agreed between the European Parliament (MEPs) and the council late last year sets out that member states shall put in place measures which shall aim to restore organic soils in agricultural use constituting drained peatlands.

Those measures shall be in place on at least:

  • 30% of such areas by 2030, of which at least a quarter shall be rewetted;
  • 40% of such areas by 2040, of which at least a third shall be rewetted;
  • 50% of such areas by 2050, of which at least a third shall be rewetted.

One farmer who has been raising stark concerns about the NRL is beef farmer Michael Walsh from Co. Kerry who said that, together with other farmers and “academics and politicians”, he sought “legal advice” to challenge the proposed law.

Speaking to Agriland, the Kerry beef farmer raised concerns that the proposed NRL, as agreed at EU level, could be “interpreted as farmers’ consent” to restoration measures relating to farmed habitats.


The farmer said he notified the European Commission and the European Parliament as he believes Irish farmers “do not give consent” to targets under Article 4 of the NRL “being obligatory”.

Article 4 states that member states shall put in place the restoration measures to improve to “good condition” areas of habitat types listed in Annex I which are not in “good condition”.

Annex 1, for example, includes, grasslands, heath and scrub habitats, mires, bogs and fens, wet heaths and peat grassland. Such restoration measures shall be in place:

  • On at least 30% by 2030 of the total area of all habitat types listed in Annex I that is not in good condition, as quantified in the national restoration plan;
  • On at least 60% by 2040 and on at least 90% by 2050 of the area of each group of habitat types listed in Annex I that is not in good condition, as quantified in the national restoration plan.

Under the NRL each member state must develop a national restoration plan and decide whether restoration measures will be obligatory for farmers in their country, according to European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius.

The beef farmer urged the European Commission to indicate, prior to adoption of the law, which restoration measures it would accept should Ireland’s national restoration plan decide they are voluntary.

Walsh said he is part of an informal group called “Milltown 2023” which he said was formed after a meeting of “politicians and farmers” on the NRL in Milltown in December last year.

Food production

Aontú’s European election candidate for Ireland South, Patrick Murphy, who said he is part of the Milltown 2023 group, compared the NRL to a spider web as he believes it has “far reaching consequences”.

Murphy, who is a fishing campaigner as well as being involved in farming, said he believes the NRL is “too specific in what it identifies needs to be done”, which he claims the European Commission “did not scientifically evaluate”.

He also raised concerns about the NRL having potential consequences on Irish agricultural exports in relation to the food produced on drained peat soils, which he said could “contradict” aspects of the EU-Mercosur deal.

While the deal sets out that beef exported from the South American countries will be produced off cleared forests, he said the NRL could give the Mercosur countries reason to believe “Ireland is doing exactly that”.

tillage field in the rain

Similarly, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) previously said it is concerned that beef produced on drained agricultural peatland in Ireland – which, under the NRL, would be defined as a degraded ecosystem – could be treated the same as beef produced on, e.g., deforested land in South America.

Meanwhile, IHFA president Vincent Roddy said the association has had a number of correspondences with the European Commission in relation to the proposed NRL.

Speaking to Agriland, Roddy said that he emphasised to the European Commission that “farmers in Ireland have not given their consent to have their land used for nature restoration”.

While he said he does not know how high the chance of the NRL being scrapped is, the INHFA president said that “there could be a legal challenge, that option is left open”.

Government stance on NRL

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan recently said that work has started on a participatory stakeholder engagement process to develop the national restoration plan. 

“Farmers, foresters, fishers and their representatives will be invited to get involved,” according to the minister who added that it is up to each member state to decide how it will achieve the obligations in the NRL.

Minister Noonan reiterated that any restoration measures that landowners “choose to participate in will be well incentivised and resourced”. He also said the legal obligation to achieve the targets in the NRL is on the member state, “not the landowner”.

“Landowner participation in the NRL is voluntary and the regulation is explicit on this in relation to rewetting. The government is clear that all restoration measures will be voluntary,” according to Minister Noonan.

The design of “appropriate incentive schemes” to deliver the restoration measures required by the NRP will include consideration of national and EU funding opportunities, and a comprehensive assessment of funding needs, he said.

Completion of the NRP will be “aligned” with the opening of the government’s €3.15 billion Climate and Nature Fund in 2026. The minister said this fund is expected to play an “important role” in resourcing the measures in the plan.