The ending of peat harvesting by Bord na Mona as part of Ireland’s just transition creates an opportunity to restore the lost raised bog habitat through schemes re wetting the bogs. Work to do this has already begun with Bord na Mona workers already redeployed to flood bogs, with further work such as the installation of pathways also planned as part of an 115 million peat land restoration scheme.
While the last full peat harvest took place in 2018 no clarity on the final end of peat harvesting had been publicly announced, and the abrupt ending of commercial harvesting has caused a crisis for the horticulture industry which is heavily reliant on peat compost.
The issue of commercial supplies of peat moss compost was raised last October by Growing Media Ireland who represent the majority of Irish horticultural peat producers, when it was apparent that supplies would run out by July 2021. However no action to prepare for the transition was taken despite Minister Pippa Hackett making it clear then that the horticulture industry ‘would have to transition away from peat’
It is unclear what the government has done in the months since to prepare. In response to a parliamentary question on the impact of the ending of horticultural peat on Ireland’s emissions Eamonn Ryan did not provide any data on irish horticultural peat production. Nor did he comment on the impact increased imports of peat for horticulture would have on the carbon footprint of the horticulture industry. All of which is surprising as the current scenario facing the sector is that the lack of an alternative Irish horticulture will be entirely reliant on imported peat from the end of summer 2021 at the latest for the foreseeable future.
Horticultural peat has only ever accounted for a tiny percentage of Irish bog land. There were 5,500 hectares of peat land or 0.4% of Irish peat land used for horticultural peat production. According to Growing Media Ireland this was responsible for 0.055% of Ireland’s projected emissions for 2020 and based on this have pointed out that as peat is central to the horticulture industry the ending of commercial peat harvesting with no viable alternative will only lead to the use of more imported peat in effect merely outsourcing our emissions to another country instead of reducing them.
Alongside the environmental cost of more imported peat there is also the economic cost of making the horticulture industry reliant on imported peat such as increased costs and longer wait times for deliveries. As it currently stands no sufficient alternative to peat use exists for the horticulture at a similar cost or quantity.
While the environmental argument for ending commercial peat harvesting is clear and the government has confirmed that a working group will be established under Minister for state Malcolm Noonan to examine the future of the horticulture sector there is no confirmation when this group will be established.
In the meantime the sector has to adjust to the new reality of sourcing imported peat and the added cost and time constraints, a worrying prospect for the industry and environmentalists who understand the risk of losing good will and public support for climate action through poorly implemented policies.