The project is taking place in the west and north-west of Ireland, focussing on 24 Natura 2000 sites (SACs) and will target the Annex I Habitats Directive habitat type Blanket bog. The overall status of blanket bog has been assessed as Unfavourable-Bad in both the 2007 and 2013 Article 17 conservation status reports. The major causes of deterioration in conservation condition is centuries of peat cutting, reclamation, burning, drainage, invasive species. In more recent decades afforestation, over or under grazing, recreation and infrastructural developments have depleted the area of healthy blanket bog. There are also a number of obstacles, gaps and shortcomings which are currently preventing the full implementation of the Prioritised Action Framework (PAF)for Natura 2000. Cultural obstacles include low awareness among the general public of the existence or value of the Natura 2000 network, low levels of public appreciation of the ecological value of natural habitats and in particular the climate change importance of peatlands, an underdeveloped sense of community ownership or custodianship towards local peatlands. Organisational gaps and shortcomings include absence of national plans or strategies for protected habitats, insufficient ecological data, absence of a national blanket bog SAC management plan, and inadequate communication and cooperation by key stakeholders in policy and governance coupled with insufficient integration in the mobilisation of complementary funding such as agri-environmental schemes.
The LIFE-IP PAF Wild Atlantic Nature project aims to address the identified obstacles, gaps and shortcomings that currently prevent the full implementation of the PAF for Natura 2000 on 24 SACs with respect to Irelands blanket bogs in the Northern and Western Region. The national level objectives are, in decreasing order of importance, to: improve stakeholders communication and cooperation in the policy and governance of Natura 2000; improve the insufficient integration and coordination in the mobilisation of complementary funding by maximising synergies with the relevant State and European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF), particularly agri-environment schemes under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD); increase general public awareness of the Natura 2000 network nationally; improve education and appreciation of the ecological value of the Natura 2000 network nationally, and in particular the climate change importance of peatlands; and build capacities by addressing key staffing shortages, and meeting key training and guidance requirements.
The regional level objectives are to: develop a sense of community ownership towards local peatlands in the Northern and Western Region; secure local community involvement and support with regard to 35 blanket bog SACs where concrete conservation actions will take place; secure the support of landowners, land users and other local stakeholders for management plans to deal with the multiple threats facing these sites; improve the limited availability of staff proficient in the Irish language for community and landowner engagement in the Gaeltacht areas; undertake surveys of selected blanket bog SACs to assess their current conservation status; carry out baseline surveys to identify specific optimal restoration areas on 13 blanket bog SACs in the NWRA project area (this has already been done for 11 of the 24 sites); raise water levels by blocking drains on the identified restoration areas; remove planted and naturally regenerated trees and shrubs; control invasive species (particularly Rhododendron ponticum); improve fire prevention and management; and fence key areas, remove inappropriate fencing, and control grazing on project sites.
In addition to the IP budget itself, the project will facilitate the coordinated use of 32 million EUR of complementary funding from ERDF and EAFRD, and national funds.
Expected results: Results at the national level will include: improved communication and cooperation with other government departments and bodies in the policy and governance of Natura 2000, and improved coordination and mobilisation of complementary funding, by maximising synergies of State funding with the relevant European funds; capacity building achieved by addressing key staffing shortages and by delivery of key training requirements; and increased general public awareness and appreciation of the Natura 2000 network, the ecological and climate change mitigation value of peatlands, and the urgent need to conserve and restore Irelands unique blanket bogs.
Results at the regional level will include: substantially improved prospects for blanket bog and associated habitats; increased sense of community ownership towards local peatlands in the Northern and Western Region and improved support from local communities for the long-term conservation of their local blanket bog SACs; secured landowner cooperation and local community involvement and support with regard to 24 blanket bog SACs; management for conservation of certain areas of active blanket bogs through strategic purchase management actions and/or compensation payments; water levels raised on the identified restoration areas; planted, naturally regenerating and invasive trees and shrubs removed from selected areas; improved fire prevention and management; limited areas fenced and inappropriate fencing removed; significant financial injection and employment opportunities made available to rural communities; and EU added value provided in demonstrating how to implement policies requiring engagement with rural-dwelling citizens.