A good example of how not to introduce conservation measures can be found in Ireland’s failure to protect raised bogs. Fourteen years ago, following pressure from the European Commission, the government put the cart before the horse and designated one-hundred-and-twenty-eight raised bogs for future protection. Windfall compensation was an immediate attraction for some people with turbary rights, but others wished to continue turf cutting. By announcing the scheme before reaching agreement with those directly affected, however, the government practically guaranteed confrontation.
A drip-feed approach was taken. Thirty-two bogs were designated in 1999, but owners were allowed to continue harvesting turf there for ten years. Twenty-one bogs were listed from 2002, with a cut-off time of seven years. And a further 75 are to be protected from next year. In all, only four per cent of Irish bogs are covered. Various compensation packages were rejected as farmers increased their demands. Turf cutting took place on two protected bogs last weekend while members of the Garda Síochána and the National Parks and Wildlife Service looked on. These were highly publicised events and represented a deliberate strategy to maintain pressure on the Government to make additional financial and other concessions. With muscle provided by commercial turf-cutters, farmers appear to be pushing a swinging door.
A national peatland strategy, agreed between the various interests, is scheduled to be published in 2015 and is expected to allow for “limited legal turf cutting” on protected bogs. Almost 40 per cent of Ireland’s raised bogs have been lost in recent years, largely as a result of commercial harvesting. That activity will now continue in so-called protected areas. Weak-kneed and incompetent behaviour by successive governments in defence of the environment has invited this outcome. The rights of private property have trumped the common good.