Thursday, 1 April 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
395. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 2021 of 24 March 2021, if the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, advised his Department to increase the buffer radius from 3 km to 15 km; if his attention has been drawn to the clear guidance on page 32 of the appropriate NPWS assessment document; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17921/21]
396. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason all forestry projects are required by his Department to adhere to a 15 km buffer zone when the clear guidance from the National Parks and Wildlife Service states the distance can be much less than 15 km and, in some cases, less than 100 m, and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17923/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 395 and 396 together.
The Habitats Directive and the transposing legislation SI 477 of 2011 require, inter alia, that an appropriate assessment is undertaken where screening identifies a likelihood of the project having a significant effect on a European site(s). This is true regardless of the separation distance between the project and the European site(s).
A likely zone of impact is used in order to identify those European Sites to be specifically addressed during screening. In making a decision regarding the likelihood of a project having a significant effect on a European Site(s), all European Sites within a certain radius (or ‘likely zone of impact’) should be considered at screening stage, in addition to hydrologically-connected European Sites. For example, in relation to a Special Protection Area, it is important to consider whether the project area lies within the foraging distance of bird species for which that SPA was designated, and many of these foraging distances exceed 3km.
This was one of the reasons why 3km was not deemed appropriate. There were a number of factors which prompted the Department to make the change in mid-2019. We were advised by our Ecology consultants that our appropriate assessment screening decisions would be vulnerable to challenge if we continued to consider at screening stage only those European Sites within 3km. Practice in other land use sectors where appropriate assessment screening is required is also to provide for a 15km likely zone of impact. Furthermore, results on individual cases heard by the FAC also indicated that the 3km radius was not appropriate.
My Department are in close contact with their counterparts in the NPWS and they are aware of our screening process. The document referred is currently under review by the NPWS.I can assure you that each file is assessed on a case by case basis.