Importing peat into Ireland “does not make environmental, economic or ethical sense”, according to a government-established working group.
The final report of the group on the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry has been published today (Monday January 17).
It was set up by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, after High Court rulings determined that large-scale peat harvesting requires planning permission and licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Although its main focus was to examine potential alternatives to peat use in the Irish horticulture sector, the group broadened its examination to legislation and the current issues facing the industry.
It said that “the great potential of the horticultural industry in the present time in Ireland should be recognised and supported”.
The final report from the chair of the working group, Dr. Munoo Prasad, stated that all members believed that the use of peat in horticulture should be phased out by 2035 at the latest, and should be eliminated from the retail sector by 2025.
The report stated that this is provided that alternative materials were available.
The group recognised that peat is needed in both the medium and longer term in professional horticulture.
“Irish peat should be available to fulfill this need and that importing peat, growing media and alternatives from outside Ireland except in a one-off situation, does not make environmental, economic, or ethical sense,” the report stated.
The group noted that six ship loads of peat have already arrived to the island of Ireland. It added that there is an opinion that two imported shiploads would be needed every month on an annual basis from next year to meet demand.
The report said that importation “should only take place under special circumstances”.
The group said that the horticultural industry needed to continue to explore the potential harvesting of peat from bogs of less than 30ha as a solution to its needs for 2022.
Members felt that Irish peat should be available over the short-term in sufficient quantities from “ecologically destroyed” bogs that were prepared for harvesting for the last few years and are now lying fallow.
This, the report said, is provided amendments are made to the current legislative provisions for large-scale peat extraction; the group stated this is “absolutely critical for the 2022 season” for the professional horticulture sector.
It was proposed that primary legislation should be drafted in order to move from the current dual consent system for planning and harvesting to a single consent system, as is the case in all other EU peat producing countries.
The report said that horticultural industry needs to be committed to the responsible sourcing of peat and remediation of bogs after use.
There were also calls for increased investment in research on alternatives and a study on biomass availability in Ireland.
The government stated that the proposed legislative changes do not offer a realistic short or medium-term solution to the challenges faced by the horticulture industry and as a result, the dual consent system is being retained.
It added that the current framework is “legally fit for purpose and proportionate to the environmental impacts of industrial peat extraction”.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) said that some level of importation cannot be ruled out in the short-term as “this has always been a factor” for the industry.
Several government measures were announced in the wake of the working group report including:
- The commissioning of an independent expert to assess levels and suitability of current stocks across all suppliers, including Bord na Móna, for the Irish horticultural sector;
- The commissioning of experts on planning to provide free advice to those who wish to extract peat in a manner which is compliant with the relevant regulations on sub-30ha bogs;
- Research to deliver alternatives to peat for the horticulture sector.