The European Commission is today (Thursday, September 29) calling on Ireland to take action to halt the continued cutting of peat within Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – Natura 2000 sites and to restore these sites.

These areas are designated to conserve raised bogs and blanket bogs under the Habitats Directive.

The European Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aim for the EU to halt biodiversity loss by protecting and restoring biodiversity.

Importance of peat bogs

According to the commission, in addition to their biodiversity value, peat bogs are vital carbon sinks when healthy.

The commission stated: “Their [peat bogs] protection and restoration assists Ireland in meeting its climate change goals not only in keeping the peat in the ground, but also by avoiding the very high carbon and other air pollution emissions which are caused when peat is burnt as a fuel.

“The Irish authorities have taken action to stop cutting, including by compensating peat and turf cutters. However, cutting activities are still ongoing and enforcement action appears to have stalled.

“Restoration activities have begun on some raised bogs SACs, but this is too slow given the importance of this priority habitat and its precarious state,” the commission continued.

Bogs in sensitive areas

With regard to blanket bogs SACs, the commission acknowledged that there appears to be no regime controlling ongoing cutting, with the cutting for domestic use exempt from control.

The European Commission sent a letter of formal notice in January 2011 followed by a ‘reasoned opinion’ in June 2011.

After a long dialogue with the Irish authorities, the commission said today, that it has decided to issue an additional reasoned opinion to Ireland, which now has two months to respond and take the necessary measures.

Otherwise, the commission may decide to refer Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesperson for the European Commission, told EuroParl radio why the commission is taking further legal steps against Ireland:

“It is extremely important to protect bogs in Ireland because they are biodiversity havens, where many important species of insects and birds have their homes in Ireland and destroying them would have a very significant effect on them.

“And moreover peat bogs are an extremely important carbon sink,” he added.