Thursday, 26 March 2009
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government
Natural Heritage Areas
Question 172: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department will review the boundaries of the bog land included in special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas as a measure to alleviate the distress caused to private individuals who have for generations cut small amounts of turf for their own use on the margins of these areas; and if his Department will engage in meaningful discussions with those peoples representatives particularly in view of the crisis in price and supply of other fuels. [12702/09]
Bogs are important natural habitats and are home to unique ecosystems containing rare flora and fauna. Both blanket bogs and raised bogs are protected habitats under European and Irish Law and representative samples have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive or Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) under the Wildlife Acts. Ireland has some of the most ecologically important bogs in the European Union. In 1999, when the first of these sites was designated for nature protection, all commercial cutting on these bogs was stopped and the then Minister granted a ten year grace period for those who were cutting turf for their personal domestic use to find alternative sources of fuel.
Blanket bogs, which occur predominantly on the Western seaboard but also in Wicklow and the midlands, can tolerate a certain amount of turf extraction without compromising their value as habitats. It is envisaged that cutting on Blanket Bog SACs and NHAs can continue, except in very sensitive areas, under the current restrictions, which prohibit commercial extraction and the use of "sausage" machines. Raised bogs occur predominantly in the midlands. There are over 1,500 raised bogs in the State and only 139 of these are designated for nature protection as SACs or NHAs. The continued cutting of turf, by hand or machine, and associated drainage on these designated raised bogs is incompatible with their preservation. Even with the restrictions in cutting that were introduced in 1999, over one third of the best bog habitat on these sites has been lost in ten years. It is clear that more needs to be done if we are to meet our obligation to protect this important habitat.
The Habitats Directive imposes a legal obligation on the State to take measures to ensure the protection of this essential and irreplaceable part of our natural heritage. Therefore, in the light of the scientific evidence of continuing damage to these valuable habitats, it would not be appropriate to review the boundaries in these areas as suggested in the question. Rather, it is necessary to put arrangements in place to provide for more effective protection of these habitats, which will necessitate the transition to a cessation of turf cutting on the small number of raised bogs which are designated. My Department will establish an interdepartmental working group to consider how best to achieve this and to assess the resources that will be required. This group will consult with interested parties and representative groups, and report back to me later this year.
Question 173: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason Ireland opted for 12% to 14% of land for inclusion in special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas when only 1% was requested. [12703/09]
The overall area of land designated for nature conservation purposes constitutes 14% of the terrestrial area of the State. The location and amount of land designated follows on from the application of scientific site selection criteria that have been determined to meet the requirements of the European Union Birds and Habitats Directives for sites of European importance i.e. Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation respectively. Similarly, scientific criteria were applied to the selection of sites of national importance as Natural Heritage Areas. I am not aware of any basis for the 1% figure referred to in the Question.