The Council of the EU has proposed a definition of “rewetting” peatlands after a number of agriculture ministers – including Ireland’s – raised concerns over the definition this week.

Speaking at a council meeting of agriculture ministers on Tuesday (November 22), Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue called for a clearer definition to be provided on what “restoring” peatlands means under the proposed Nature Restoration Law.

The minister is understood to be concerned over the difference between “restoring” and “rewetting” these soils, as the distinction between the two is not explicitly clear in the proposed law at present.

The draft law, as it is written currently, outlines that, for organic soils in agricultural use constituting drained peatlands, member states shall put in place restoration measures.

Those measures shall be in place on at least:

  • 30% of such areas by 2030, of which at least a quarter shall be rewetted;
  • 50% of such areas by 2040, of which at least half shall be rewetted;
  • 70% of such areas by 2050, of which at least half shall be rewetted.

The council has proposed a compromise definition to be included in the text of the law to alleviate concerns expressed by Minister McConalogue and others.

This definition, which does not appear in the draft law that was proposed by the European Commission, defines rewetting peatlands as “a deliberate action that aims to bring the water table of a drained peatland back to that of the peat-forming peatland; the peatland is rewetted when the mean annual water table is near or at the soil surface”.

The council has also proposed an alteration to the definition of “restoring” ecosystems, including peatlands.

This definition of restoration is outlined as “the process of actively or passively assisting the recovery of an ecosystem in order to improve its structure and functions with the aim of conserving or enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience”.

However, despite the inclusion of an alternative definition for “restoration”, and the introduction of a definition for rewetting, it remains unclear how actions to restore and rewet peatland will differ in practice.

These proposed changes to the Nature Restoration Law are, at present, only compromises proposed by the council, and have not been officially adopted by the wider Council of the EU.

The changes are set to go before the council of environment ministers next month.