John Gormley, TD,
Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and Local Government,
3 October 2008
Re: Moratorium on upland wind farm construction
We write to you as a group of local and national environmental organisations who have come together to seek an end to the severe damage to upland bog habitats and freshwater ecosystems that have been repeatedly occurring through the construction of the present generation of wind farms.
The Derrybrien bog slide of 2003 was widely reported at the time and was specifically cited in the European Court Justice of 3rd July 2008 ruling against Ireland as an example of systemic failure of government to follow due procedure required by the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
Most recently, bog slides in Counties Kerry (August 2008) and Leitrim (September 2008) have led to extensive juvenile fish kills, destruction of the aquatic environment and protected species, water pollution, loss of bog habitat, and the depletion of carbon sinks.
In the Leitrim case the release of water heavily polluted with suspended solids which have entered and continue to enter Lough Allen due to the peat slide raises a major concern for the survival of the Pollan Species recorded as a healthy and viable population. As a result of siltation and smothering of spawning beds for consecutive years the extinction of this species is a very real possibility as this species has a life expectancy of only 5 years.
These incidents have been caused by the construction of roads to service wind farm development without adequate hazard and risk assessments, and in the absence of any guidelines for their construction.
Measures are now urgently needed to prevent any possible recurrence of these devastating ecological disasters. This is required by the Habitats Directive, the Water Framework Directive, and the EIA Regulations.
As part of your Department's National Parks and Wildlife Service 2008 Report ‘Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland', infrastructural development was identified as one of the current pressures on blanket bogs, resulting in the fact that the ‘overall status of this habitat is considered to be bad'. According to the Foreward - which we might respectfully point out is written by you - these habitats "are the very building blocks of biodiversity and maintaining them in favourable conservation status is a central purpose of the Habitats Directive".
Furthermore, as part of the Assessment of Priority Habitats and Species carried out by the your Service in 2006, the threat of wind farm development to blanket bog habitats was specifically assessed. They reported that 39 of 56 wind farms surveyed were located on blanket bog. Out of the 39 blanket bog wind farms, 20 have been constructed on relatively intact blanket bog.
On numerous occasions wind farms are located at the edge of designated sites and may have significant impacts on the status of the blanket bog. Additionaly, wind farms have had serious impacts on undesignated blanket bogs and this is considered an increasing threat to biodiversity in the wider countryside.
Many of these sites are host habitats for listed bird species both breeding and migratory. Disturbance caused to these species and the loss of habitats is of serious concern.
The main damaging activities to blanket bogs from the construction of a wind farms include the construction of an associated road network across the peatland, service structures, drainage, soil conduits for power cables, turbine foundations and electricity pylons, all of which can significantly alter hydrogeology.
We asking you to urgently address this serious and ongoing destruction of Ireland's natural environment and resources we are seeking that you:
1. Ensure that you are satisfied that there is no continued failure of local authorities to fully implement the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive when drawing up development plans at every level. In the absence of appropriate assessment under this Directive, sensitive (and protected) ecosystems can be put at risk through their designation as suitable for wind farm construction.
2. Ensure that you are satisfied that no further breach of the Habitats Directive shall result from the construction of any wind energy developments that have either been granted consent or that are pending granting of consent.
1. Ensure that you are satisfied that all wind energy developments for which consent has been granted have been fully assessed as to the likely significant effects on the environment in full compliance with the ECJ ruling against Ireland [C-216/06], and that mandatory EIA guidelines are drafted and implemented which fully reflect these requirements.
This ECJ ruling clearly admonished the position taken by your authorities that
‘Directive 85/337 was not applicable, since the ancillary works of peat extraction and road construction were minor aspects of the project of wind farm construction itself. The competent authorities therefore considered that there was no need either to investigate whether the intended projects were likely to have significant effects on the environment or, accordingly, to conduct an environmental impact assessment meeting the requirements of Directive 85/337 prior to granting the consents'.
The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, after the recent slide in County Leitrim, has stated that
‘The specific causes of the peatslides have to be established, but the Board believes it prudent for developers and Local Authorities to review the road construction techniques currently in use and the preventative measures in place to minimize the possibility of further peatslides. Furthermore the Board would ask that guidelines on appropriate techniques and preventative measures for construction on peatlands be published. These guidelines should take into account the impact of increased rainfall and peat abstraction techniques'. [SRFB, 26.09.08]
We note that the relevant Scottish Guidelines clearly identify the very risks which are leading to these ecological catastrophes here in Ireland, such as:
• Alteration to drainage pattern focusing drainage and generating high pore-water pressures along pre-existing or potential rupture surfaces (e.g. at the discontinuity between peat and substrate)
• Unloading of the peat mass by cutting of peat at the toe of a slope reducing support to the upslope material
• Loading of the peat mass by heavy plant, structures or overburden causing an increase in shear stress
• Digging and tipping, which may undermine or load the peat mass respectively, and may occur during building, engineering, farming or mining (including subsidence)
[PEAT LANDSLIDE HAZARD AND RISK ASSESSMENTS, Best Practice Guide for Proposed Electricity Generation Developments, December 2006, Natural Scotland]
We would be the first to join with you in recognising the importance of increasing the renewable energy sector. It is a vital part of necessary efforts to combat climate change. We must reduce dependency on the abstraction of non-renewable resources such as peat and oil. But we cannot - and we belive you will not - support the widespread damage currently being caused to biodiversity and natural resources by the construction of wind farms on intact peatlands - including lowland blanket bog, upland blanket bog, heath and other sensirtive habitats - without apporpriate safeguards
It is clear from European case law that every emanation of the State is required to do what it can to make good any defect in any Environmental Impact Assessment process. No further wind generation construction should take place in such locations until their impact is suitably assessed in accordance with the Court Judgment and until mandatory Guidelines for this construction based on peat landslide hazard and risk assessment are put in place which incorporate the precautionary principle.
An Taisce - The National Trust for Ireland
CLEAN - Cavan Leitrim Environment Network
Peter Crossan, Joachim Schaefer
Derrybrien Development Society Ltd
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE)
Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC)
Irish Wildlife Trust
Address for correspondence:
Tony Lowes, Friends of the Irish Environment, Allihies, County Cork
Kerry's Mayor Michael Healy-Rae's call for the Kerry slug to ‘go to hell' has been met with a vigorous response from FIE. FIE submitted a report to the Minister for the Environment in February of last year which, with many other representations, led to the Minister instructing the NRA to seek a route for the N22 that would avoid Cascade Woods, a habitat for many species, including the protected Kerry slug.
Speaking to Radio Kerry about the delay, Healy-Rae said ‘Its about time that we got our priorities right and leave the snails go to hell and mind our people.'
In fact the Route Selection Report stated that restrictions resulting from an ongoing dispute between the Irish Farmers Association and the National Roads Authority led to landowners denying access to farmland to undertake survey work for the proposed road.
If the survey had taken place the route could have been shifted, allowing both the woodland and the road to coexist. In this case and in the case of other road projects like the Kildare By-pass there has been a wholly unjustified and deliberate attempt to stigmatise species like slugs and snails when the real issue is the preservation of Ireland's fast-vanishing natural heritage.
The environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment have urged the Minister for the Environment to target ‘conflict areas' in its Biodiversity Action Plan.
As the period for public consultation closes, FIE has drawn the Minister's attention to the recent EU poll which showed that Ireland ranked last in awareness of biodiversity throughout the EU.
The group claims that ‘the impact of this situation is inescapable and has resulted in widespread conflict situations arising as the requirements of key European Environmental Directives are begin enforced by the Commission.'
The group told the Minister that the ‘environment' has become is a dirty word in many parts of Ireland.
‘These designations and the protection they afford are identified as the primary concern of the European Commission's fights against species loss.'
The group cites the campaign by farmers to reverse the designation of areas to be protected under the Birds Directive for the Hen harrier, of which there are less than 150 pairs left. ‘As a result of continued pressure and behind closed doors meetings, the proposed designated areas were ‘consolidated'.
A spokesman explained that the 9 areas identified in 2003 were cut to 6 and the total hectares to be protected fell from 287,000 hectares to 169,000 hectares. The Kilworths and the Nagles lost all protection. The Ballyhouras were also excluded from the SPA designation in spite of being identified for the Hen harrier in the SAC Site Synopsis and despite the fact that the Ballyhouras had seen the most improved harrier numbers since 2000.
Another example quoted by the group related to the ‘long delayed' Special Protection Area for Wexford Harbor. Over 500 attended a protest meeting against the new designations organized by the Wexford Harbor Commission last month and supported by the town's Mayor.
The group asked the Minister to shift the information target from the ‘largely generalized and middle class ENFO-aware population' to those areas ‘where infringement proceedings from the European Commission and wide-spread public unrest have coincided in conflict situations with the Department of the Environment.'
More: Tony Lowes 027 73131 / 087 217 6316
In its submission to the Biodiversity Action Plan 2008 - 2012, FIE is seeking to have the educational awareness funding targeted at conflict areas in the nature designation process. A recent EU poll showed that Ireland ranked last in awareness of biodiversity throughout the EU.
These designations and the protection they afford are the primary concern of the European Commission's fights against species loss - yet pressure by farmers and land owners unaware of the importance of biodiversity has led to cutbacks in designations.
In 9 out of the 10 parts of the case brought against Ireland over the country's failure to protect birds, the European Court of Justice has found against Ireland.
With the exception of one issue of legal transposition, the Court has found that:
• Ireland was wrong to exclusion parts of both Sandymount Strand and Tolka Estuary SPA from protection
• Protective measures taken by Ireland are partial, isolated measures, only some of which promote conservation of the bird populations and which do not constitute a coherent whole.
• Ireland has an inadequate number and size of areas classified for the protection of the red-throated diver, hen harrier, merlin, peregrine falcon, golden plover, short-eared owl, dunlin, kingfisher, and corncrake.
• Irish law must be changed to ensure that recreational activities - such as jet skies - do not damage bird habitats.
• National Plans, such as the National Forestry Plan, must now be subject to an assessment that ensures that protected wild birds will not be damaged.
• All individual forestry planting applications, either inside a designated area or likely to have an effect on them, must now be assessed regardless of size when previously only those of 50 hectares or more had to be assessed.
• All aquaculture projects, regardless of size must now have their negative effects on birdlife assessed before being given approval
Welcoming today's judgment, the environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment claimed that protection for at least one of the species - the hen harrier - was actually less now than that planned when the case was taken against Ireland in 2003 when Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen claimed that Ireland was ‘facing fines of €8 million a year or €21,917 a day'.
Drawing on files released to them under Access to Information on the Environment, the group claims Minister Roche told the Dail in 2006 that the 2003 proposed protection has been ‘consolidated' in spite of falling numbers after 6 secret meetings with the IFA and the industry.
This ‘consolidation' meant that the 9 areas identified in 2003 were cut to 6, and the total hectares to be protected fell from 287,000 hectares to 169,000 hectares. The Kilworths and the Nagles lost all protection and the Ballyhouras were also excluded from the SPA designation. This was despite their designation as an SAC under the Habitats Directive and despite the fact that the Ballyhouras had seen the most improved harrier numbers since 2000.
‘Major work must now be done to Irish legislation and substantial areas of the countryside must be properly protected to avoid fines of ‘up to €8 million a year'.
Further information on the Hen harrier