A new NI peatlands strategy will be published in the near future, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

It is understood that the strategy will require conservation management plans to be put in place for peatland areas covering as much as 370,000 acres in NI, with farmers encouraged to take restorative action, such as rewetting.

During a debate in the Assembly chamber on Tuesday, Minister Poots faced repeated calls from MLAs to do more to protect and preserve peatlands in NI.

“Wetting is a necessity — a necessity — to capture carbon in our peatlands. I hope that members, when we bring forward the proposals to wet peatlands, will not be coming to me representing constituents, saying, ‘You can’t do it in this area, you can’t do it in that area’. I suspect that some people will maybe eat their words at that point,” he responded.

He also pointed out that managing peatland, both to reduce the risk of wild fires, and encourage biodiversity, involves appropriate grazing management, while controlled burning of small strips produces a mosaic of heather useful for ground-nesting birds.

Those comments have been welcomed by UFU hill farming chair, Nigel McLaughlin. However, he also warned that farmers have so far been left out of the conversations around protecting hill land.

“Our farmers are keen to get involved in working together to safeguard our upland areas, but it’s vital that they’re treated equally in the discussions and the creation of the action plan” he said.

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