Policy MIN7 Peat Extraction
There will be a presumption against commercial peat extraction. Exceptions may be allowed where the peatland is already degraded and not reasonably capable of restoration or where it can be demonstrated that peat extraction is linked to a management and restoration plan which will deliver improved peatlands over the longer term.
Where the proposal meets the above exceptions it must also meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.
Justification and Amplification
Peat deposits are formed from decaying organic matter which accumulates in water saturated environments such as a bog land. Peatland is important in terms of the stability and general wellbeing of the environment. It provides distinctive upland and lowland landscapes, adds to biodiversity and manages river catchment hydrology in a way which reduces flood risk thus performing a valuable ecosystem service. Globally, peat acts as a carbon store therefore helping to mitigate against the adverse impacts of ‘greenhouse’ gas emissions.
There are extensive areas of active peatland within Mid and East Antrim Borough. Garron Plateau is the most extensive area of intact upland blanket bog in Northern Ireland and is recognised as being of international importance. Part of the Maine Valley Bogs also fall within the borough. They are one of the most important concentrations of lowland raised bog in Northern Ireland. The main areas of commercial peat extraction in the Borough are located to the north-west and south-west of Ballymena. They comprise three peat bogs on sites at Craig’s Road, Loughbeg and Ballyscullion.
Whilst this policy does not seek to curtail the long established rights of turbary, there is a need to carefully manage commercial peat extraction because of the public value and benefits referred to above. Commercial peat extraction methods remove peat at a rate that substantially exceeds the original rate of deposition and accumulation and therefore diminishes the resource or leads to its total loss. They can also cause significant damage to the peatland and invariably offer less potential for restoration than traditional hand cutting methods.
Accordingly, this policy seeks to limit commercial extraction to sites where the peatland is already degraded and not reasonably capable of restoration and where there is little conservation value. In making this assessment, the Council will consult with NIEA. It is noted that the Interpretation Manual of European Habitats defines degraded raised bogs as those which are “capable of natural regeneration” i.e. “where the hydrology can be repaired and where, with appropriate rehabilitation management, there is a reasonable expectation of re-establishing vegetation with peat forming capability within 30 years”. Peatland damaged by fire would not be considered as a permanent obstacle to regeneration and therefore would not be treated as an exception to the policy.
Commercial peat extraction may also be permitted by way of exception, where it is part of a management plan for the conservation or restoration of peatlands over a longer term. In such cases the developer will be required to demonstrate the longer term benefits and that the proposed management structures and finance are in place. In such circumstances, council will normally require the developer to enter into a planning agreement.
Council will consult with NIEA on the status of individual bogs when making a determination on a planning application for commercial peat extraction.