An EU-funded project aimed at conserving habitats and protecting blanket bogs in the west and north-west has been delayed because of Covid-19, according to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The department was awarded €12.4 million in funding for the EU LIFE ‘Wild Atlantic Nature’ project in late 2019, a department spokesperson told AgriLand.

The project – funded under the EU Life Nature and Biodiversity Programme – seeks to improve Ireland’s performance in conserving habitats and, in particular, to improve the conservation status in Ireland of blanket bog, a priority habitat under the Habitats Directive, with conservation work funded in proposed project sites in counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Galway.

The spokesperson said: “The project start-up has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A crucial part of the project will be working in partnership with the communities in these counties, as well as with a variety of stakeholders across Government and beyond, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, RTÉ, Coillte, Fáilte Ireland and Bord na Móna, among others.

“The project objective is to deliver substantially improved prospects for the priority habitat blanket bog and its associated habitats, including habitats for threatened species such as red grouse and freshwater pearl mussel.

“The project will also work towards raising awareness of the Natura 2000 network, comprising the network of SACs [Special Areas of Conservation] and SPAs [Special Protection Areas] for birds throughout the EU.

“The project aims to carry out conservation work across 24 project sites, but only after extensive community engagement,” the department spokesperson assured, when asked about the level of contact and compensation for farmer owners of such sites.

Part of the funding is targeted towards the purchase or long-term lease of lands or multi-annual payments for provision of ecosystem services.

“Landowners will be offered advisory supports in the form of Knowledge Exchange Groups, where they will be provided with clear and useful advice, in terms of habitat improvement, and where they have an opportunity to discuss specific topics focused on the integration of farming and environmental objectives.”

Continuing, it was added:

A results-based agri-environment payment system (RBAPS) will be linked to the quality of the habitat, thereby putting the landowner, their skills, knowledge and expertise central to the success of this project.

“The award of this funding is a very positive endorsement of the successful model built by the department in addressing the urgent need for conservation and restoration of our SAC/SPA network, demonstrating the on-going importance of the EU LIFE programme in supporting large-scale projects that have a regional or local focus, particularly in rural or peripheral areas,” the representative concluded.