Nature restoration law will affect almost 9% of Irish land

Minister for Environment hails ‘decisive step towards addressing very real risks we are already seeing’

Birds fly over the Bog of Allen. The nature restoration plan sets targets for Ireland’s rarest and most precious habitats, such as ancient woodlands, blanket bogs, coastal lagoons, species-rich grasslands and dune systems. Photograph: Alan Betson

Almost 9 per cent of Irish land is expected to be directly affected by the EU nature restoration law (NRL), following a historic EU agreement to rehabilitate at least 20 per cent of European land, inland waters and sea areas by 2030 and all degraded ecosystems by 2050.

The Government has begun drawing up a national nature restoration plan due to be adopted by 2026, including a national impact assessment demanded by farm organisations – with new supports for farmers likely to come from its €3.15 billion climate and nature fund.

Previous research from the House of the Oireachtas stated the European Commission had estimated between 7.8 per cent and 8.9 per cent of land in the Republic of Ireland would be affected by the new commitments.

The controversial NRL, which faced protracted delays, got over the line at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg on Monday after member states secured guarantees on “flexibilities” and voluntary implementation, despite hardened opposition from farmer groups across Europe.

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The legislation is designed to protect Europe’s biodiversity in response to accelerating nature loss but the most controversial aspect in Ireland remains rewetting of peatlands, because of farmer concerns that measures would ultimately be imposed on them.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president Denis Drennan warned the Government any degree of compulsion where the State “ordered” individual farmers to carry out actions on their private property “would cause massive resentment and would quickly prove to be unworkable”.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Francie Gorman accused the Government of backing legislation lacking detail with no baselines; “where it’s going to take farmers we don’t know, at a time [they] are being regulated out of business”.

“Europe is the fastest-warming continent and is facing unprecedented impacts from the intertwined nature and climate crises. This is a decisive step towards addressing very real risks we are already seeing, from desertification to flooding,” Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan said.

What impact will the EU nature restoration law have on Ireland?Opens in new window ]

The national restoration plan would ensure sustainable farming by producing a collaborative document, and build on environmental schemes that tens of thousands of farmers were already participating in a voluntary way, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said.

Ireland is also calling for a dedicated EU nature fund to support farmers, he said, while 2030 and 2040 targets for rewetting bogs would be achieved by concentrating on State-owned lands.

Restoring bogs is more complex than just removing treesOpens in new window ]

The NRL sets targets for Ireland’s rarest and most precious habitats, such as ancient woodlands, blanket bogs, coastal lagoons, species-rich grasslands and dune systems.

Restoring these areas will also benefit endangered species such as the hen harrier, curlew, natterjack toad and marsh fritillary butterfly, Mr Ryan said.

Have you seen this rare European butterfly in Ireland?Opens in new window ]

Further targets aim to improve farmland bird species, to enhance the structure and diversity of commercial timber forests, and to increase tree planting and green space areas in urban areas.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times