The plan by Ministers Phil Hogan and Jimmy Deenihan to protect 130 raised bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) under the European Union Habitats Directive by staggering the cessation of cutting over the next two years and compensating the cutters is unconvincing.
The moratorium on recruitment to the public service, coupled with early retirements in February, means that many bogs will lack coverage by National Parks Wildlife Rangers. This means that some of the estimated 20,000 turf-cutters active on the 130 sites will be able to continue to damage the sites, break the law and incur the risk of punitive fines being levied against Ireland by the EU.
Six of the sites where cutting was supposed to have ceased in 2009 were cut by contractors since then. The delay and prevarication on the State’s part dates back to 1999 when a 10-year derogation on the cessation of turf-cutting was granted by Síle de Valera in a move regarded as illegal by the EU.
Could it be that the present Government intends to allow cutting (a pre-election pledge by Fine Gael) to degrade sites to the point where they are no longer conservation-worthy and will be de-listed as SACs and NHAs? Our most distinctive habitat will be lost and so will the wildlife that relies on the habitat. This includes the curlew, a recently abundant bird that faces imminent oblivion due to bog destruction.
Of the larger Irish moths at least 218 species feed on plants that occur on bogs. Some of our most endangered butterflies, such as the Large Heath depend on bogland environments. Huge biodiversity loss looms unless we truly value our wonderful, evocative and historic boglands.
I call on everyone who loves our countryside to report illegal turf- cutting to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and to the European Commissioner responsible for the Environment.