Peatland restoration promises climate and biodiversity solutions

Published by Kayle Crosson on

18 May 2021 

Peatland restoration is one of the most promising solutions to the dual climate and biodiversity crises in Ireland, an Oireachtas Committee heard today. 

Speaking before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA), Dr. Catherine Farrell of Trinity College Dublin stressed that restoring peatlands is “one of, if not the number one solution to the biodiversity and climate crisis” given their widespread degradation and significant role in climate regulation. 

Peatland policies must be multi-sectoral given their scope and the current approach must be changed in order to, “enact restoration solutions that create the policy and economic structure to support this,” according to Dr. Farrell. 

A National Peatlands Unit with a concrete action plan was one recommendation that Dr. Farrell put before the Committee, stressing that it was needed to “support sustainable peatlands for the people that rely on them and look after them.” 

“Peatlands take time to heal but inaction is not an option. We must roll up our sleeves and work together across sectors to do it,” she added. 

Dr. Farrell was a number of experts speaking before the Committee as it continues to explore how carbon emissions could be reduced by 51 per cent by 2030, as the Programme for Government committed to. 

“Every year we fail to reach targets” 

Paddy Purser from Pro Silva Ireland also spoke before the Committee, and stressed that a major area of concern continues to be Ireland’s forest cover rate of just 11 per cent, one of the lowest in Europe. 

The country is repeatedly falling behind on its forestation goals as “every year we fail to reach targets”, he told the Committee. 

The Committee was also reminded that the forestry sector has now become a carbon source rather than sink, according to a Department of Agriculture report

According to the document, the transition from sink to source has been fuelled by deforestation, legacy-planting induced harvesting, fire emissions, younger stands and drainage. 

Mr. Purser also raised monoculture plantations as a point of concern as they deplete soils’ nutrients and fertility. 

Representatives from BirdWatch Ireland highlighted biodiversity failures in their statement to the Committee, as there are more birds in the highest level of conservation concern than ever before, according to Dr Anita Donaghy. 

A total of 54 Irish bird species now find themselves on the Red List, with an additional 79 species being Amber-listed. 

In total, roughly a quarter of all birds in Ireland are experiencing declines. 

Head of Advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland Oonagh Duggan stressed that while climate change is a factor in changing bird populations, it is the disturbances caused by human activities that are the biggest disruptors. 

In order to restore biodiversity on farmlands, results-based agri-environment schemes should be used and farmers “need to be rewarded for those activities,” she said. 

“We need to remember that we are in a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate one,” Ms. Duggan added. 

Additional reporting by Shauna Burdis and Thomas Hamilton

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