The Irish Wildlife Trust has called on the Department of Agriculture to “take emergency steps to restore peatland ecosystems” and to commence the destocking of hills, particularly those in areas protected under the Natura 2000 network.
It urged the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary, Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, and Minister at the Department of Housing, Malcolm Noonan to “act swiftly”.
Its call for urgent destocking comes after the publication of a new study from the National Parks and Wildlife Service which examined the Nephin/Owenduff Complex Special Protection Area in County Mayo.
The area is also part of the Ballycroy National Park and a Special Conservation Area.
The study, which was carried out in 2019 and involved field surveys throughout the SPA, found that a massive 97% of the vegetation had been ‘damaged’ (80% ‘moderately damaged’ and a further 17% ‘severely damaged’), according to the IWT.
It found that the population of Golden Plover, a bird species for which the SPA has been designated, has fallen 37.5% since 2006.
“This marks a stark deterioration in the conservation status of the SPA, something which is at odds with its designation under the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.”
“This damning evidence highlights the failure of conservation efforts and warrants urgent and decisive measures in line with the ‘biodiversity and climate emergency’ which was declared by the Dáil in 2019.”
IWT campaign officer, Pádraic Fogarty, said: “We’ve had decades of piecemeal measures or, in many cases, total inaction, which have led to the serious deterioration of upland and peatland ecosystems across Ireland.”
“Urgent restoration measures are now needed to reverse this decline and these must include a complete destocking of farm animals from affected areas.”
“Farmers and landowners, which will be impacted, must be compensated under a ‘just transition’, which could include payments for ecosystem restoration.”