NEW restrictions on drainage of wetlands will have only limited impact on farmers, according to Junior Environment Minister Willie Penrose.
He said "wet glades" are not included in the wetlands where thresholds are being lowered for agricultural activities requiring environmental impact assessment or planning permission.
Based on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, it has been agreed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that saturated soils include the following Irish habitats — lakes, reservoirs and ponds, turloughs, rivers and canals, swamps and marshes, flood plains that are permanently or periodically inundated with water, including callows, peatlands, wet woodlands, caves, cliffs, salt marshes, dune slacks, transitional waters such as estuaries and lagoons, and intertidal habitats to 6m below the lowest spring tide level.
"We all recognise that land becoming a bit wet over the winter period does not fall within the definition of wetlands in the regular system of farming," said Mr Penrose.
Planning regulations are being amended to reduce the threshold for mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) for drainage of wetlands from above 20 hectares to above 2ha.
It is also proposed, given the environmentally sensitive nature of wetlands and the potential for minor development works to have a significant environmental impact, to replace the current full planning exemption for development in wetlands with a new planning exemption threshold of 0.1 ha. This will allow for minor access works and maintenance, but any more substantial development will require a screening for EIA as part of a planning application. Non-agricultural areas are not included in the wetlands definition.
"We should not accept people seeing this as a way to make much money as the environmental impact statement should be very simple and direct for the areas involved," said the minister.
He said the European Commission is happy with the proposed threshold on wetlands development. Unless Ireland reduces the thresholds for mandatory EIAs, in order to fully address European Court of Justice findings, the commission is seeking that the court impose a lump sum fine of about €2.5m and a daily penalty of more than €33,000 per day, or €12.5m per annum.