The upcoming Nature Restoration Bill is causing concern and debate among farmers and rural communities. This proposed legislation aims to enhance environmental conservation by rewetting and restoring habitats, but many fear it could disrupt farmers’ livelihoods and the balance of rural life.

The law aims to address the degradation of natural habitats across Europe, with over 80% currently claimed to be in poor condition. While environmentalists celebrate this step towards biodiversity,  farmers express concerns about its implications for agricultural land use and food production.

In the recent vote, 11 of Ireland’s 13 MEPs supported the law, while 2 opposed it. The Irish MEPs who voted in favour included the five Fine Gael MEPs—Deirdre Clune, Frances Fitzgerald, Seán Kelly, Colm Markey, and Maria Walsh—despite their party, the European People’s Party (EPP), largely opposing the law. Other supporters were Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher (both Fianna Fáil), Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan (both Green Party), and Independents Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Chris MacManus (Sinn Féin) voted against it.

A key part of this is re-wetting drained peat lands and other degraded areas. Supporters argue these measures are vital for combating climate change and preserving ecosystems. However, farmers and rural communities worry about the unintended consequences.

There’s concern about the bill’s impact on food security in Ireland. Turning farmland into wetlands could reduce the land available for food production, leading to greater reliance on imported food. This dependency could undermine Ireland’s agricultural self-sufficiency and make the nation vulnerable to supply chain issues and market fluctuations.

For farmers, re-wetting poses a significant threat to agricultural land use and productivity. Large areas of farmland could become unsuitable for cultivation, depriving farmers of essential resources and threatening their livelihoods. The disruption of drainage systems and water management might also increase flood risks, jeopardising agricultural operations and nearby homes and businesses.

The bill’s effects reach beyond agriculture to the core of rural communities. Farmers play a crucial role in supporting local economies, cultural traditions, and community cohesion. Re-wetting initiatives could force farmers off their land, weaken rural livelihoods, and damage the fabric of these communities.

Many farmers feel excluded from the bill’s development process, with their concerns overlooked in favour of conservation interests. This lack of consultation has increased tensions and distrust within rural areas.

As Ireland works to balance environmental conservation with agricultural sustainability, it is crucial to consider the perspectives of farmers and rural communities. Policy makers need to engage with these stakeholders as it currently appears they are sacrificing livelihoods and traditions of farming communities on the altar of environmental goals.