An Oireachtas biodiversity report has called for a review of the nitrates derogation, a stop on draining peat soils and the introduction of more environmental supports for farmers.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment recommended that a review of the nitrates derogation be undertaken to determine whether the derogation is contributing to declining water quality.

Another key recommendation was to stop farmers from draining peat soils as “a matter of urgency”.

The report noted that agri-food policies should focus on encouraging farmers to improve biodiversity and “removing incentives that allow for unsustainable farming”.

Its report said more should be done to avoid intensifying farm systems from negatively impacting on biodiversity and some committee members noted the “potential opportunity” to the State not looking for another derogation.

When pushed by the Irish Farmers Journal, committee members suggested that Government’s emphasis should remain on incentivising farmers to act to restore nature rather than removing existing subsidies. Committee chair and Green Party TD Brian Leddin maintained that rewetting farmland will not stop farmers from grazing, saying that “there is a lot of misinformation” out there on what rewetting will mean for farmers.

The report acknowledged that farmers must “change their approach” to managing peatland and wetland areas under restoration measures, including a reduction in grazing activity and introducing “animals from uplands” peatlands to aid restoration.

The introduction of a “robust” agri-environmental scheme to pay farmers to carry out biodiversity measures is needed, with payments of €500/ha required to make the organic farming scheme “comparable” with “basic” agri-environmental schemes, according to the report.

It also sought urgent action to restore Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), suggesting that area-specific management plans be drawn up for every SAC in the country.