EU agrees nature restoration deal that will have far-reaching impact for Ireland

IFA warns landmark outcome will hit Irish food production

A deal on a contentious EU nature restoration law will have far-reaching consequences for land use and agriculture in Ireland as it requires extensive restoration of vast wetlands and protected habitats despite some elements being scaled back.

EU countries must put in place restoration measures for drained peatlands on at least 30 per cent of such areas by 2030; 40 per cent by 2040 and 50 per cent by 2050 – while scaling up rewetting – but it will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners.

The legislation was strongly opposed by farmers but got across the line late on Thursday in negotiations with the European Commission; the European Parliament and European Council of Ministers. It has been broadly welcomed by environmental groups though elements of the package, a key pillar of the European green deal, were scaled back.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) warned, however, that it would impact Irish food production and accused member states of “walking blindly into these targets without fully understanding the consequences”.


The law is designed to help restore degraded ecosystems while achieving overarching EU climate objectives and enhancing food security. It covers terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems, including wetlands, grasslands, forests, rivers and lakes.

It aims to restore most of Europe’s degraded ecosystems by 2050, which will be especially onerous for Ireland because of its extensive wetlands, which have deteriorated due to drainage and peat extraction, and many protected habitats – Natura sites – in a poor condition.

A potential impact on food production is recognised by way of “an emergency brake for agricultural ecosystems targets”. They can be suspended under exceptional circumstances if they create severe EU-wide consequences on availability of land required to secure sufficient agricultural production for food consumption.

IFA environment chair Paul O’Brien said farmers supported nature restoration but “we need to fully understand the impact of the proposed targets”.

“Farmers must not be castigated for feeling Europe is walking blindly into these targets without fully understanding the consequences,” he said.

Minister for Nature and Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the proposals had succeeded in passing “yet another milestone on its perilous journey to become law”.

Nature restoration could only be delivered with full support from farming, forestry and fishing communities, he said. “Our most urgent task now is to find the common ground in which a new way of doing things can take root, and through this to ensure that both people and the natural world feel the benefits.”

Irish MEP Mick Wallace, who was involved in negotiations as shadow rapporteur for the LEFT group in the parliament, said: “The final text is something we should all support, though regrettably it also drags down the overall ambition of this important legislation.”

He said the law “had so much potential, but it was really dragged through the mud as part of right-wing political campaigning, primarily” from the European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael is a member. “It means we will need more nature legislation going forward as [it] will not be enough to halt the biodiversity crisis.”

Green MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan, who sits on the parliament’s environment committee, welcomed the agreement.

“Over 80 per cent of Europe’s natural habitats are in poor shape, and Ireland unfortunately ranks as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world following hundreds of years of colonisation, deforestation, intensive agriculture and human interference,” she said, adding that the law was “not perfect but it is a crucial step to turning back the clock on our war on nature”.

The agreement must be adopted by the European Council and the European Parliament before coming into force.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times