The semi-state company says flooding ‘has not been an issue’ on previous bog rewetting sites
Bord na Móna (BNM) does not intend to engage in a written agreement with landowners adjacent to bogs identified for rewetting under its major peatlands restoration project.
However, farm organisations insist that a signed contract is a “redline issue” for members ahead of the commencement of the semi-state company’s rehabilitation works on 33,000ha of bogland next month.
Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture Ger Breen, BNM head of land and habitats said: “Bord na Móna has worked on the bogs for 90 years and has responsibilities as a landowner. We have always worked with local communities and made promises that we’ve always fulfilled.
"We’re very conscious of impact on neighbouring lands and, my own opinion is that, a written agreement is not required in this case.”
In response to concern raised by several members of the committee, chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, Mr Breen outlined that the company had been involved in bog rehabilitation for more than 30 years.
“We have avoided and eliminated the risk of flooding on third party lands, it has not been an issue. In addition to the rehabilitation team, we also have a care and maintenance team who are involved in maintaining the drains and we have obligations under our existing IPC (Integrated Pollution Control) licence to adhere to.
"We will continue with our care and maintenance service into the future to make sure we keep drains properly maintained so we avoid the risk of flooding onto neighbouring lands. We have extensive stakeholder engagement process in place at the moment to outline the rehabilitation process,” he said.
The peatlands rewetting project manager Doreen King also emphasised that BNM is “not trying to flood the bogs”.
"We have external consultant hydrologists appointed to do an assessment on every bog to assess the impact of the proposals on adjoining lands.
"If there’s land that may be vulnerable we will provide a boundary drain and pull back our rehab if we have to from the area to ensure we won’t impact on adjoining lands. We will maintain the water system around the edges of the bog,” she said.
Meanwhile, rehabilitation and biodiversity lead Mark McCorry outlined that if BNM doesn’t rewet the bogs, “they will continue to emit carbon” into the atmosphere.
"If we don’t rewet we’re going to see continued erosion of peat and faster movement of water through the drains. This project is going to be very significant towards Ireland’s own climate action objectives,” he said.
Nonetheless, ICMSA president Pat McCormack and Offaly farmer Pat O’Brien; plus IFA president Tim Cullinan and IFA deputy president Brian Rushe underlined the potential impact of the bog rewetting project on drainage for surrounding farmland and the need for “inked” assurances.
Dr David Wilson of Earthy Matters Environmental Consultants also gave a briefing on the environmental benefits of rewetting bogs to the committee.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack said: “Everyone assumes this land will always be Bord na Móna’s. Not alone does there need to be a written agreement but it needs to be within the deed that any commitments given are honoured in the potential sale of the land – that is absolutely critical.
"Time and time again we see agreements and everyone smiles and walks away, but we need to have this in writing for generations of farm families to come that are potentially going to be affected. That is a redline for us.
"We also need a scientific and independent judgement on adjoining farmlands pre-wetting and potentially post-wetting.”
Furthermore, IFA deputy president Brian Rushe said “valuable carbon” stored in the bogs and surrounding lands must benefit local communities.
“That is an absolute redline. No-one objects to this project, but we are concerned about the speed they expect to complete it by and their level of engagement.
“We do not want to see this project develop into a backdoor for land designations; and on the issue of potential compensation we would be very careful with that too.
“We need to make sure Bord na Móna remains in the areas to maintain and look after drains because there is a worry that if we, as farmers, look for compensation at this stage it would provide Bord na Móna with an opportunity to exit the areas.
“The ideal scenario is that Bord na Móna remains in the community and has a liaison officer on the ground to make sure outflows continue.”