The value of Irish peatlands will be highlighted at COP26 as the Peatlands Gathering team is coordinating a session at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Peatlands Pavilion.

The Peatlands Gathering event took place from October 7 to 9, and the aim of the event was “to share knowledge and understandings in order to cultivate a new beginning for peatlands in Ireland”.

It featured varied contributions from the peatlands community of Ireland and around the world, including those actively involved in farming and conservation of peatlands, with scientific understanding of greenhouse gas emissions and water management, rehabilitation and restoration of degraded peatlands, community stewardship and cultural aspects.

Subtitled ‘A New Beginning’, the event consisted of two days of online presentations and discussions and one day of field trips to Irish bogs.

The Peatlands Gathering COP26 session will be held on Wednesday, November 10, from 9:00a.m to 10:30a.m, during which the main messages from the October event will be delivered.

Ministers Malcolm Noonan and Pippa Hackett will be participating in events alongside chair of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action deputy Brian Leddin.

‘Losing our most biodiversity and carbon-rich habitats’

Meanwhile, Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) campaigns officer Pádraic Fogarty said that as the government heads to Glasgow for COP26, “people need to know that we are still losing our most biodiversity and carbon-rich habitats to illegal activity in areas where peat extraction was supposed to have been ended a decade ago”.

Data from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and acquired by the IWT through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, “show that mechanical turf-cutting continues to be a widespread issue on SACs in Ireland despite the practice being unlawful since 2011”.

Under the EU’s Habitats Directive, 57 sites have been designated as SACs specifically for their raised bog habitat, the IWT said.

According to the IWT, turf-cutting was monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at around one-third of the sites (18 SACs) in 2021.

“A total of 282 plots were cut across all SACs in 2021, nearly the same as the 286 which were cut in 2020.”

The IWT said that it had previously been confirmed to it by the department “that in accordance with the Wildlife [Amendment] Act 2000 and the European Communities [Birds and Natural Habitats] Regulations 2011, turf-cutting may not take place on raised bog SACs unless with the prior consent of the minister”.

Peatlands not only unique habitats for rare species

“Our FOI request showed that no such prior consents were granted in 2021. Peatlands in Ireland are not only unique habitats for rare species, but play an important role in storing carbon and in regulating flood water run-off,” Fogarty continued.

“They are a significant part of our heritage and are frequently important amenity sites. However, when peatlands are damaged through drainage, turf-cutting, animal grazing or forestry, these processes go into reverse.

“It is particularly distressing therefore to see that even in the small number of ‘protected areas’, peatlands continue to be destroyed under the noses of the authorities.”

Fogarty said that “despite the great speeches we’re likely to hear” at the UN climate conference over the coming days, “the destruction of nature is ongoing and shows little sign of abating”.