The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, has announced that the drafting of legislation has been approved as a matter of priority for the de-designation of 39 raised bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) and the part de-designation of 7 raised bog NHAs.
The Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network was published in January 2014. It sets out a series of measures to ensure that Ireland meets its obligations under the EU Habitats Directive to maintain or restore raised bog habitat to favourable conservation status, as well as its obligations under the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive relating to the regulation of turf cutting on natural heritage areas, whilst at the same time avoiding unnecessary impacts on the traditional rights of landowners and users and minimising the cost to the State of compensation payments.
The review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. This will entail:
- The phasing out by 1 January 2017 of turf-cutting on 36 existing natural heritage areas, which will remain designated - this includes 7 sites to be divided, with part to be conserved and part de-designated;
- The complete de-designation of 46 natural heritage areas - including the relevant areas of the 7 sites to be divided - where it has been judged that their contribution to the attainment of the national conservation objective for raised bog is expected to be marginal and/or restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved. Domestic turf-cutting may continue on these sites, while larger scale or commercial turf cutting will continue to be regulated through other consent systems; and
- The designation as natural heritage areas of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs, which are in public ownership or where there is reduced turf cutting pressure, so as to compensate for the loss of habitat within the sites where it is proposed that turf cutting can be allowed to continue.
The Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to publish the new legislation to de-designate the natural heritage areas in question within the first 100 days of Government. The drafting of this legislation has now been approved and the General Scheme of the Bill has been referred for consideration by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht.