Peat cutting must be regulated, not banned

Peat cutting must be regulated, not banned

20 August 2011

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United Kingdom — Turbary is the traditional right to cut peat turf as domestic fuel. But there is concern over moves in the Republic of Ireland to impose bans on peat cutting in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive.

Most peat bogs in Britain and Ireland were damaged irreparably by industrial exploitation in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. What remains is precious beyond calculation. Pristine raised mire, in particular, should on no account be drained or cut over. However, proposed bans on traditional turbary rights raise issues of human heritage. Many of these sites are cultural landscapes, forged by a subtle interaction between people and nature over centuries.

This EU directive is too little too late, as industrial cutting has already robbed us of our heritage, and those with turbary rights of their local bogs. Where was the directive when we needed it?

Nevertheless, we do now need enlightened management of peat resources, or there will be no peat for the turf cutter of the future – whether a smallholder, a cottager, or an industrial whiskey distillery.

We can halt the devastation and begin a process of restoration. But, at the same time, we can allow the traditional peat fire to glow gently in the cottage hearth as it has done for centuries. Peat was, until quite recently, the common fuel for many people. The solution will not be easy, but a heavy-handed ban that ignores the interests of local people will not be effective.

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