IRELAND: Court case with EU looms as sheep overgrazing threatens birds

Ireland faces court action from the European Commission over its failure to curb sheep overgrazing at a key conservation site in County Mayo. Some Irish environmentalists are welcoming the news, in the hope that it will wake government officials up to the importance environmental laws.

The EC will pursue Ireland under the Wild Birds Directive, a law that protects important bird habitats. The EC alleges that Ireland has allowed overgrazing by sheep in many areas including the Owenduff-Nephin Beg Complex in County Mayo. The conservation site is designed, in part, to protect one of Ireland’s most threatened birds, the Red Grouse. The bird is heavily dependent on heather, which is one of the plants worst affected by overgrazing.

“A court case would be very useful,” Frank Corcoran of Friends of the Irish Environment told edie. “It’s not a surprise because Ireland is in breach of many EU environmental directives, particularly those related to habitats.”

According to Corcoran, the fight to stop overgrazing by sheep and cattle has been a long one in Ireland, with government agencies often failing to admit that the headage paid to farmers causes soil erosion. At one point, a government representative blamed soil erosion on excessive rainfall.

“A lot of environmental organisations believe some of these government environmental agencies should be wound down,” says Corcoran. “They’re doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to do.”

In addition to breaches of EU wildlife habitat law, Irish environmentalists are increasingly focusing on the country’s plans for future development. Ireland’s National Development Plan, which sets out how £Irish40Bn will be spent over 7 years, foresees increased population on the country’s west coast. Despite the existence of a railway line along the west coast, the National Development Plan envisages closing the line and increasing the region’s road capacity.

“A number of Irish environmental NGOs are planning to present submissions to the EU to have the National Development Plan deemed illegal,” warns Corcoran. £Irish4Bn of the plan’s total budget is due to come from the EU.

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