What is the consultation?
In Northern Ireland, DAERA opened a consultation around the development of their Peatland Strategy and we see this as a crucial first step towards protecting, restoring and enhancing our peatland habitats and peat soils for their nature value and carbon sequestration potential.
Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?
Restoring peatland has huge benefits to the natural environment, including providing diverse habitats, natural flood prevention and carbon storage. If Northern Ireland is to take serious steps towards reaching a future net-zero target, then peatland restoration is crucial.
Approximately 12% of Northern Ireland is covered by peat, but for decades, NI’s peatlands have been exploited. It is estimated that around 86% is in a degraded state due to drainage, overgrazing, afforestation, burning and extraction. A complete and enforced phasing out of all peat extraction in Northern Ireland is essential and we believe the Government must lead the way on this issue.
In the midst of the twin climate and nature crises, we think it is imperative to stop peat extraction on publicly owned land, including no new licenses for peat extraction being be granted or extended and any existing licenses being revoked.
What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?
We believe that the wording of the draft strategy does not demonstrate the levels of ambition, urgency or commitment that will be essential if we are to deliver a landscape-scale recovery of our peatland resource in Northern Ireland.
As part of the drive to combat the global emergencies of nature loss and climate change, the peatland strategy should give a stronger commitment to restoration and enhancement, including an ambitious overarching target for all peatlands to be “well managed” for their peatland biodiversity and ecosystem function by 2040.
The NFFN recommends that the strategy and its associated targets should be embedded within the policies and programmes resulting from a future Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill and subsequent Climate Action Plan, as well as any future review of the WANE Act.
We think a mix of funding from public and private (as well as EU and other external funding sources) will be required if we are to deliver ambitious, large-scale peatland restoration across the country. For this to be achievable, the Government needs to show real leadership by allocating significant sums of public funding to deliver peatland restoration.
Fundamental reform of agricultural policy is essential if we are to effectively address the threats to our peatlands and begin restoring them to their natural state. The historically low payment rates which areas of actively farmed peatland have attracted (even through agri-environment schemes), due to their perceived lack of agricultural value, has created a legacy of poor management.
Future agricultural policy must ensure that all farmers are rewarded for delivering nature-friendly farming practices and environmental public goods such as carbon sequestration, water and air quality, and flood risk mitigation. This will need to be combined with the provision of appropriate education, support and advice to farmers.