Landowners fear Bord na Móna’s bog rewetting project will flood fields

Bord na Móna machines fill in the ditches on Clonwhelan Bog, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, as part of the rewetting. Photo: Jeff Harvey

Caroline O'Doherty

Bord na Móna’s flagship environmental project has come under attack from landowners who say their properties and livelihoods are in jeopardy.

The company has begun rewetting 80,000 acres of drained peatlands, but farmers say they will have an adverse effect if the project goes wrong.

Several hundred farms adjoin the project site in the midlands, and farmers have sought written assurances that Bord na Móna will remedy any damage should their lands become flooded.

Bord na Móna has said it will adjust its rewetting plans where a risk of flooding on adjoining land is identified, but the company stops short of agreeing to fix any damage that might happen.

Offaly farmer Michael Guinan said what he and other landowners were asking for was fair and proportionate.

“We never once asked for a red cent in compensation,” he told a gathering of TDs and senators in Leinster House.

“What we wanted was a written, signed agreement that should our land become unfarmable, Bord na Móna or their successor would do remedial work and restore it. A sheet of paper with a signature is all we want.”

Mr Guinan said the stand-off with Bord na Móna had made him wary of the project.

“Bord na Móna tell us their hydrologists have done risk assessments and there will be no problem,” he said. “If they’re as confident in their hydrologists as they say, why not give us a guarantee?”

The rewetting project is the focal point of Bord na Móna’s “brown to green” transformation from a peat producer to a climate solutions company.

The 80,000 acres were drained over 80 years and much of the top layers of peat were stripped away.

The peatlands formed over tens of thousands of years from layers of compressed carbon-rich vegetation preserved in year-round wet conditions.

Drained and exposed to the elements, they are emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases. Rewetting halts the emissions and could, over the long term, restart the process of peat formation.

Bord na Móna said it had a boundary management team in place to monitor impacts of its work on adjoining lands.

“Where an inspection identifies deterioration in the structural characteristics of a boundary drain, which is affecting water levels or drainage on adjoining lands and which is emanating from Bord na Móna lands, appropriate maintenance measures will be taken.”

Farmers organisation the ICMSA said such statements did not go far enough to allay concerns.

Its president, Pat McCormack, called on Environment Minister Eamon Ryan to intervene, but said he had so far not accepted invitations to meet members.

He warned that failure to take on board landowners’ genuine concerns in the midlands would have a knock-on effect on similar projects required under the EU’s wide-ranging Nature Restoration Law.

“What’s starting out as a local issue in the midlands will affect lands from Donegal to Wexford and everywhere in between,” he added.

The draft Nature Restoration Law covers all kinds of habitats, but sparked controversy over proposals for extensive land rewetting.

The targets were scaled back last week and the discretion of member states to decide what rewetting was appropriate was strengthened.