The AIR Corps have been called in by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to stop turfcutting at Coolrain bog.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service have confirmed to the Leinster Express that spotter planes have been used to find out if turf is being cut.
The service confirmed that Air Corps planes had circled over Coolrain taking photographs. Private contractors have also been hired to monitor the protected bogs across Ireland, paid by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, to the tune of €15,000 so far.
“The Department has found that aerial monitoring is the most efficient way of assessing if any environmental damage is caused to Special Areas of Conservation as it allows for a large number of locations to be viewed in the shortest possible timeframe.
“These flights have been undertaken using the services of the Air Corps and, in some limited circumstances, a private contractor.
Where evidence of illegal cutting is found it is investigated and enforcement action, which involves a visit to the area, is undertaken by the NPWS and An Garda Síochána. Helicopters have not been used for the purposes of monitoring of illegal turf-cutting.
The NPWS said Air Corps Cessna aircraft cost €185 an hour.
“With regard to costs incurred by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the sum of €10,399.62 was paid in recent days and invoices totalling €4,318 are currently being processed for payment. It should be remembered that if these Special Areas of Conservation are not protected Ireland faces daily fines of up to €25,000,” it said.
The development emerged as local turfcutters blocked off a lane to stop the authorities gaining access on Friday evening of May 25. By 8am the following Monday morning, a machine contracter hired by them had cut about one third of the plots, ready for drying.
Gardaí negotiated with men blocking the lane, and eventually Inspector Martin Harrington from Portlaoise station was given access to walk the site on Saturday. No further action was taken by Gardaí, who monitored the scene over the weekend.
A representative from the NPWS was also denied access to the bog.
One of the organisers of the turfcutting was Pat Cooper, who was overwhelmed by the positive local response.
“We wanted to assert our rights.
“We knew setting out that something like this might not gain support, but there was food brought out to feed an army. It was phenomenal. People who don’t even cut turf came and sat with us,” said Ms Cooper.
She says that not all of the Coolrain plot owners supported the decision to cut. She is prepared to stick to her principals all the way to court and possibly jail.
“I will just have to take the repercussions. We are all aware of what could happen. But this is happening in bogs all over the country, not just our own,” she says.
A spokesperson from the NPWS says they are gathering evidence to identify contractors and land owners.
“The evidence gathered will be used for the purposes of pursuing prosecutions, cross reporting and other legal remedies, including the recovery of remediation costs from those who have caused damage.
“It should be remembered that if these SACs are not protected, Ireland faces daily fines of up to €25,000,” the NPWS say.
Coolrain and nearby Knockacollier are two of 53 raised bogs nationwide designated as SACs, keeping them preserved as active bogs with no more cutting allowed.