Council proposal on Restoration Law will still see large areas of land rewetted

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have raised major doubts around an amended document from the Council of Ministers that details a significant reduction in the area of land to be rewetted.

“Over the last number of weeks Ministers and some MEP’s have outlined their support for the Councils proposals and specifically Article 9 of this document that covers the rewetting of drained peatlands” said INHFA President Vincent Roddy
In discussing this the INHFA President accepted that there have been some positive changes on the area of land targeted for rewetting under Article 9. However, in our assessment of the Council proposals there is, he added, “the possibility to deliver on the initial restoration ambition for 70% of our drained peatlands as detailed in the original Commission proposal through Article 4(2) of the proposed law.”

“While we have always felt that this specific article is a major concern for hill farmers the proposed amendments to this article from the Council of Ministers will impact way beyond our uplands” stated Roddy,
Article 4 covers restoration measures on various ecosystems with Article 4(1) specifying existing Annex 1 habitats such as our wet and dry heaths that dominate much of our uplands. Article 4(2) is focusing on the re-establishment of areas that were Annex 1 habitats and the Council of Ministers have amended this by adding in the following text ‘with the aim to reach their favourable reference area’
In doing this the Council text is, stressed Roddy “clearly identifying additional areas for restoration (reach favourable reference area), areas that previously were Annex 1 areas but are no longer. Based on our figures there are approximately 670,000ha of Annex 1 habitat. However, there is, we estimate, an additional 620,000ha of land that was previously Annex 1 habitat such as wet and dry heath, bogs including cut-away bogland. Most of this is now High Nature Value Farmland and it is quite probable that some of this is drained farmland detailed for restoration through rewetting under Article 9.”

When assessing these previous areas that now must be restored, Article 12(2) specifies the timescales. Again we are stated the farm leader “looking at subtle but significant changes. The original Commission proposal detailed a minimum of 70 years but the Council of Ministers text was amended, to read ‘the favourable reference area taking into account records of historical distribution’ . It is worth noting that in Ireland, on our uplands there is at least one known report conducted by AC Stevenson DBA Thompson – The Holocene, 1993 that details long term changes in the extent of heather moorland in upland Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years. We are also aware of similar reports in Britain pertaining to lowland heath areas which we believe will also give an historical basis for Ireland.”

Beyond the concern around rewetting and restoration of habitats there is another significant change in the Council of Ministers proposal. Under financial support and specifically Article 11(9). “The original Commission proposal details how Member States Shall when preparing the restoration plan “aim at optimising the ecological, economic and social functions of ecosystems as well as their contributions to the sustainable development of the relevant regions and communities.” Under the Council text, ‘Shall’ has been amended to ‘May.’ This very subtle change is, stressed Roddy “the strongest indication possible that there are Member States that want the option to renege on any financial support. In Ireland our experience of using the term ‘May’ has never been positive and will see landowners, farmers and their communities thrown under the bus, as they have been with the current land designations.

The INHFA Leader also explained how they have outlined all these issues and more in a letter to our MEPs. “In this letter we called on the MEPs to trust farmers who are and continue to deliver for nature and detailed how any desired improvements can only be made by supporting farmers in a real partnership.”

In concluding he stressed how “this law is definitely no partnership, but rather a dictate and an insult to the very people that can deliver for nature and this is why it must be rejected.”