Spatial planning

Spatial planning strongly influences land use. Good planning decisions can incentivise more efficient resource use in the built environment and avoid the intrusion of inappropriate urban infrastructure into natural areas. Integrated spatial planning can optimise economic development opportunities, ecosystem services, reduce human exposure to environmental pressures and reduce social inequities.

The challenge is to design a future urban environment with public appeal while meeting the needs of the population. The importance of clean and well-protected “green” and “blue spaces” such as parks, ponds and wild areas in the urban landscape is now recognised as a key part of urban landscapes that are needed for healthy communities.

 

Land cover mapping

Addressing the national level resolution gap in land cover mapping remains a challenge and requires collaboration between many organisations and government departments. The Ordnance Survey of Ireland are developing a high-resolution map in partnership with the EPA, as part of a national integrated land cover mapping programme. The EU Biodiversity Strategy calls on Member States to map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services.

A dedicated EU working group has been established to deliver this action. It has been identified that there is a need for better resolution national land cover and land use data. The current data limits our ability to understand small scale changes that can have a significant impact on the environment. 

In recent years a National Land Cover Working Group has been working towards the development of a national mapping programme.  This work included developing a mapping methodology and a clear use case benefit analysis. This programme is essential to monitor, report and assess the environmental impacts of different land cover types. The Ordnance Survey of Ireland, in partnership with the EPA, are now developing national landcover maps for 2018, these are planned for release in 2021. The maps will have a high resolution with at least a land cover information at parcel scale.

 

Irish soil information system

One area which has seen significant improvement has been the establishment of a national soil map as part of the EPA-funded Irish Soil Information System Project in 2014. The overall objective of this project was to assess the national distribution of soil types and prepare a national soil map that would identify and classify soils using a consistent national classification. See the soils map of Ireland.

In addition to the map, a collection of tools to access and interact with the soils data were developed. The various soil types have been assessed taking into account their environmental and agronomic responses. This should assist soils management planning and related policy implementation. 

 

National landscape strategy

The European Landscape Convention (ELC) seeks to strike a balance between management planning and landscape protection. In Ireland, this is being provided for through the Planning and Development Act Regulations 2000-2010 and Local Government Reform Act 2014. The National Landscape Strategy (NLS) also seeks to ensure that Ireland complies with the ELC by establishing principles for protecting and enhancing the landscape while positively managing changes.

Since 2018, Ordnance Survey Ireland has been developing a high-resolution map in partnership with the EPA. By integrating sectoral data, we should get a much more consistent picture of national land cover and land use. The EPA also aims to develop a national land use map for assist in reporting under the LULUCF Regulations (Regulation (EU) 841/2018). This will be directly related to the outputs of the national land cover mapping programme. High resolution data, at a minimum of land parcel scale, will provide detailed information on the status of land. It will be the basis for assessing past and future changes and will allow detailed environmental assessments and research.

 

National peatlands strategy

The National Peatlands Strategy sets out the actions required and partners responsible for its management and implementation. Bord Na Mona (one of the Strategy’s partners), report having restored over 1200 ha of raised bog at 12 different sites, including areas which had not been fully brought into peat production.

In 2016, Bord Na Mona also launched their Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-2021, to support ongoing restoration, rehabilitation and management activities. They review this plan’s progress every year. The 2018 review reported progress in rehabilitating former peat production areas, with 15,000 hectares having been rehabilitated with a further 1,250 hectares in progress of rehabilitation.

 

Agriculture

Food Wise 2025 includes many sustainability-related actions to improve the environmental footprint of the agriculture sector. By fully implementing the environmental-related elements of Ireland’s National Rural Development Programme 2014‑2020, adverse environmental effects (including on soils, water quality, etc.) can be minimised.

The EU Common Agricultural Policy and schemes such as Agri-Environmental Option Schemes, for example, encourage farming practices that maintain soil fertility and levels of organic matter. Teagasc’s SQUARE project continues to develop and refine its toolbox for farmers to assess soils and the impacts of soil degradation. Teagasc recommends that soil-specific management measures based on soil type are needed, so that suitable nutrient management options are used for that soil type. Teagasc have also published a soil management manual to assist farmers in this regard.

The DANÚ Farming Group, a European Innovation Partnership project (EIP Agri) funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, combines the best practices of conventional and organic farming.

 

River catchment-based flood risk assessment and management

The incidents of widespread flooding, such as along parts of the Shannon catchment in 2015, highlighted the severe impacts on local communities and business.  This highlighted the need for a wider debate and a national solution to managing flood risks in catchments and managing land use in areas at risk of significant flooding.

The national Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) programme, in its first cycle, assessed the existing flood risk of inland water courses and coastlines in Ireland and consider flood alleviation options. The programme is also considered the potential for significant increases in flood risk arising from climate change, ongoing development and other pressures that may arise in the future. The CFRAM programme is the vehicle for delivering on the main requirements of the European Floods Directive. This directive applies to inland waters as well as coastal waters.

 

EPA Research Programme

EPA Research 2030 is a 10-year high-level research programming framework under which funding will be allocated under four interconnected research hubs. From 2021, land & soil-related research will be funded principally under the EPA Research 2030 Research Hub on:

  • Protecting and Restoring our Natural Environment - Our natural environment provides us with clean air and water, food and the raw materials to sustain us and our economy. Research is required to inform and support a cross-sectoral approach to managing our natural environment and for the development of policies relating to the regulation of emissions and activities, and the protection of our water, land and ecosystems.

Previously, under its EPA Research Programme 2014-2020, the EPA funded research in the Land & Soil area under its Sustainability Pillar Theme Natural Capital and Ecosystem services including soils and biodiversity.

Further details of the latest EPA Funding Research Opportunities and Awards.

EPA-funded Research Projects

Since 2014, the EPA funded more than 80 research projects (as of May 2021) relevant to Land & Soil, corresponding to a commitment of about €7.3 million.

Some of the ongoing research funded by the EPA investigates:

• Habitat mapping, assessment and monitoring with high resolution imagery;
• Irish natural capital accounting;
• Peatlands; and
• Planning.

Research land and soil word cloud

For more details regarding the EPA-funded projects, please go to our Public Searchable Projects Database.

EPA Research Publications

To date, 45 EPA Research Reports have been published in relation to Land & Soil (as of May 2021).