Although the debate around an EU Nature Restoration Law has calmed over the past months, the proposal is still on the table and discussions about its potential implementation continue.

Currently at trilouge stage, the law continues to be negotiated between the European Commission, which proposed the law, the European Parliament and the Council.

Agriland spoke to MEP Grace O’Sullivan, a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety which is the lead committee of the Nature Restoration Law.

The trilogues – the next of which will take place on October 5 – are not public. Although there is no certainty, MEP O’Sullivan said she hopes an agreement will be made before the end of this year.

Nature Restoration Law

The highly controversial Nature Restoration Law only “scraped through” the parliament in terms of getting the majority of MEPs to vote to support it and had thus been “compromised”, she said.

However, in terms of biodiversity decline across Europe, climate change, and sustainable food production, the Green Party MEP said that the value of restoring nature isn’t recognised.

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:

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

The text which has been adopted by member states, i.e. the Council, states that the rewetting in areas of peat extraction sites can contribute to achieving the above targets.

In addition, the rewetting of drained peatlands under land uses other than agriculture and peat extraction can contribute to a maximum of 40% to the targets which are still being negotiated.

Once negotiations have concluded at EU level, the proposed law will then go before national governments, including Ireland, which will then start their own stakeholder consultation process.

As part of this, the MEP explained, governments will design their own restoration plan which will be tailored to each country, including Ireland and its “unique sets of circumstances”.

“In Ireland’s case, ours [plan] would be tailor made for Ireland because we have unique sets of circumstances that are different to other member states.

“Being an island nation, being a country that has high-nature resources in terms of peatlands, and not to be forgotten the whole maritime space.

“The whole marine ecosystems around Ireland have tremendous capacity to not only support biodiversity, but also to absorb carbon from the atmosphere,” MEP O’Sullivan told Agriland.

Irish agriculture

It’s important to recognise, she said, that if Ireland has a healthy environment, a healthy environment, ecosystems and habitats, it will help farmers as well to farm better in a sustainable way.

The Green Party MEP highlighted that this will not only support farmers to produce food, but also pay farmers for their efforts in restoring already damaged habitats by human intervention.

She stressed that when the law goes back to member states, it’s important that everyone, including farmers, understands that this is the time to engage in the consultative process.

In terms of peatlands, the MEP referred to comments by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue in which he said there is enough state land to meet restoration targets.

The parliament wants farmers to have the opportunity to rewet, i.e. raise the water table, she said highlighting that this does not mean “reflooding” and farmers will be able to continue farming their land.

Farmers engaging in voluntary schemes for nature restoration should receive additional payments outside of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the MEP said.

“Once you start to restore a peatland habitat, there’s loads of benefits in terms of biodiversity, in terms of water quality, in terms of drainage, in terms of carbon sequestration.

“So there’s lots and lots of benefits there for nature, but also the benefit for the farmers that they would receive an additional payment for that,” MEP O’Sullivan told Agriland.

MEP Grace O'Sullivan at this year's National Ploughing Championships
MEP Grace O’Sullivan at this year’s National Ploughing Championships

From speaking to farmers in her constituency of Ireland south, she said that over the last few decades they have been almost “misled”, citing the example of planting/removing hedgerows.

“So they’ve been proposed to do the following and then they do the following and then they’re told, well, actually, that isn’t what we want.

“They feel that no matter what [they] do, that it doesn’t seem to be right. I don’t think it’s healthy for farmers to feel that the fingers have been pointed at them – the blame game.

“I think there is a job of work to be done by the government to communicate more with farmers to identify where the misinformation is,” she said urging for “frank talks”.

She believes that in the early stages of the law there was “absolute disinformation and lack of facts” going around that was just viewed in a certain way and doing “more harm than good”.