Peatlands - Ireland

Peat Extraction
Courtesy NPWS ©

Irish peatlands and turf cutting as an energy source have an impact on economic, environmental and social outcomes in a number of ways:

Positive Impacts

  • Peatlands provide a direct use value from the accumulated peat for extraction (e.g. for domestic fuel).
  • In 2015, the peatlands industry employed over 1,200 people in Midland communities in Ireland whose wages are also spent in the local economy, providing further jobs in the region.
  • Peatlands are a direct landscape and provide cultural value (the cultural landscape). Part of the cultural value of peatlands is derived from the traditional association between people and the bog as a source of household fuel and, within the last century, as a source of industrial energy. Removing this connection between people and place can have long-lasting social consequences.
  • In 2015 the peat industry, which is primarily centred in the Midlands, spent over €30 million purchasing goods & services in the local economy, further supporting economic development of the region.
  • The Irish horticultural industry, which relies heavily on Irish peat production, makde a significant contribution to Irish gross agricultural output with direct value of €437 million in 2018. Moreover, an estimated 6,600 were employed full time in primary horticulture production and a further 11,000 employed in value added and downstream businesses (Government of Ireland, 2020).

Negative Impacts

  • Peatlands provide a direct ecological use value (e.g. bird watching, nature appreciation). Peatlands have a particular value in terms of species that are rare in a European context. Most fundamentally, the specialist peatland flora has the further value of providing the infrastructure for species interactions without which there would be no bog. The ecology is therefore critical to the sustainability of peatlands and, consequently, to all the other ecosystem services it provides. Where peatlands are used as an energy source, the destruction of habitats and the impacts on the local ecology can be long lasting.
  • Protection of archaeological heritage (through the preservation properties of peat). Many people value the archaeological finds that have been recovered from peatlands over the years. Intact peatlands have the effect of preserving artefacts in situ, which are important from a heritage viewpoint. The extraction of peat for energy purposes poses risks to important Irish historical records.
  • Hydrological and water quality benefits (water storage, filtering). Peatlands can moderate rainfall runoff with potential relevance to downstream flooding risks. Peatlands provide a prospective ecosystem service and public good in terms of their hydrological functions. Both fens and bogs are of value for their water storage and filtering role. Catchments with extensive areas of peatland may be more likely to maintain supplies of water during short periods of drought. The removal of peat from bogs can therefore decrease water quality and increase the risk of flooding.
  • Carbon storage (peatlands are large stores of carbon which has accumulated in situ over long periods of time). Indeed, degraded peatlands contribute to climate change through the release of carbon dioxide, a process that may be accelerated by climate change. Unfortunately, as most Irish peatlands have been degraded to one degree or another as a result of peat extraction for energy use, the area of peatland that is likely to be emitting carbon dioxide is greater than that which is storing greenhouse gases. The cost of burning peat (either industrially or for domestic purpose) is very high in terms of carbon loss.

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