Local communities and farmers are central to conservation and restoration efforts, the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, has said.

He told an An Fóram Uisce webinar on managing peatlands on Friday morning that it is important that these people are listened to when it comes to rewetting.

“It is vital that we listen to communities and ensure that any decision around peatland management works for them, and this is the principle of the Just Transition.

“This is about nature and people,” he said.

Pressures

Minister Noonan said that policies relating to peatlands have varied considerably over the years and that a halt in the decline of the environment has not yet been achieved.

“Many of us will have a significant memory of trips to the bog to cut, foot and bag the turf harvest for our family’s supply of fuel for the winter.

“Increasing pressure from drainage, associated with intensified agriculture, turf cutting, afforestation and fire, however, has rendered 95% or 1.5m ha of peatlands in very poor condition, contributing an estimated 6m tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per year.

“Over the years, land use policies relating to peatlands have varied considerably. These have ranged from active planting of commercial coniferous forestry, to large scale commercial cutting and burning of peat, to increased stock levels and the decreasing stocking rates.

“Many of these policies were born out of social and economic needs as we saw them at the time.

“Despite a range of approaches to reduce and mitigate the impacts on peatlands and restore them, we have not yet achieved a halt in the decline of the quality of our environment,” he said.

He added that while similar social and economic pressures still persist, “we are now being overshadowed by the dual global crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change, on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.”