“Sleán Sunday” – Don’t be fooled by turf cutters this weekend!

From an An Taisce Facebook post on 8 August:

The image that the organisers of ‘Sleán Sunday’ (a staged hand-cutting protest in Clonmoylan SAC this weekend) want to portray, does not reflect this reality.

Ballynafagh bog SAC in Co. Kildare“The machines are ruining the bog…If ‘twas done the old way the bogs would not be as damaged”, says John ‘Busca’ McMahon, turf cutter from Lisselton, Co Kerry as quoted in this Irish Examiner article.

Turf cutters and contractors are planning a staged hand-cutting protest – “Sleán Sunday” – at Clonmoylan bog SAC in Co. Galway this Sunday. You may remember that this protected bog – one of the tiny percentage the government is trying to save – was the scene of a major stand-off in 2012, when Gardai and the NPWS tried but failed to confiscate turf cutting machinery.

A hand-cutting protest? Yes, even though the overwhelming majority of turf is now cut (excavated) by heavy machinery, mainly by contractors, including at Clonmoylan SAC. For example, the recent illegal cutting in Monivea bog SAC involved twelve machines (six excavators and six spreading machines).

As a 2006 report noted, hand cutting is “not likely to be a significant activity on any designated raised bogs now or in the future” (at p.37: http://bit.ly/KCyjIQ)

Given this fact, “Sleán Sunday” in Clonmoylan SAC seems a fairly transparent attempt by a small group of turf cutters and contractors to play up to the popular narrative of a small-scale traditional activity (think donkey and cart, cloth cap) versus big bad bureaucrats in Dublin and Brussels. But this is a mirage, obscuring the truth of intensive machine-cutting, which is now the standard method.

Be in no doubt, modern turf cutting with heavy machinery is destroying some of Ireland’s and Europe’s most fragile, endangered ecosystems. The latest figures reveal that Ireland lost 38% of its active raised bog habitat in the years 1995-2013. This protected habitat is within SACs, and so-called ‘domestic’ turf cutting and associated drainage are the principal causes of the loss.

The government is trying to preserve as SACs and NHAs less than 5% of the bogs available for turf cutting (2% if we focus just on the raised bogs). Turf cutters on affected bogs have been offered financial compensation to cease cutting or relocation to continue cutting elsewhere, plus an annual delivery of 15 tonnes of turf pending relocation. Yet a small number insist on continuing cutting/excavating where they are, regardless of the consequences and costs, environmental and otherwise.

Past generations would not recognise what passes for “turf cutting” today. As an old-timer hand-cutter commented recently, “The machines are ruining the bog…If ‘twas done the old way the bogs would not be as damaged” (see this article in the Irish Examiner).

The small number of turf cutters and contractors who refuse to accept compensation or relocation may perhaps be hoping that “Sleán Sunday” will make for good photos in Monday’s papers (e.g. rows of “hand cutters” vs. Gardai and rangers). The event may instead serve to further alienate a public that does not like to be misled.

Here are 40+ photos of Clonmoylan bog SAC in Co. Galway after turf cutting by machines last year. The banner photo used for this post is illustrative of the damage caused by turf cutting; it is of Ballynafagh bog SAC in Co. Kildare, not of Clonmoylan.