The Nature Restoration Law was finally passed by a vote of EU environment ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, after months of uncertainty.

The law was passed by the European Parliament in February, but the final seal of approval had been delayed, as its proponents feared it would be rejected by member states.

Monday’s approval came amid controversy over the deciding vote. The Austrian government planned on abstaining to leave the law without a qualified majority, but the country’s Green environment minister Leonore Gewessler broke ranks and voted in favour.

She now faces a legal challenge from the main party in Austria’s governing coalition, which accused her of acting illegally by supporting the law.

Ireland voted to approve the Nature Restoration Law along with 19 other member states. The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Hungry, Poland and Italy all voted to reject it.

There was a concerted effort in recent months from senior Green Party representatives in Ireland to secure support for the law to get it passed before Hungary’s anti-Green Deal government takes the presidency of the EU Council in July.

Nonetheless, the vote has given effect to a legal obligation on member states to restore 30% of degraded habitats by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. These habitats include grasslands, rivers and forestry.

A national restoration plan will be drafted over the next two years, outlining how Ireland will meet its targets under the law.

Irish choices

Ireland will choose to improve two of the following farmland biodiversity indicators: the grassland butterfly index, carbon in mineral soils used for tillage and high-diversity landscape features on farmland, such as hedgerows and buffer strips.

Lands designated as Natura 2000 is the focus of restoration efforts up until 2030. Once an area has been restored, the conditions of its habitats cannot worsen. Peatland rewetting targets included in the law are to see 30% of drained peatlands restored by 2030 – with one-quarter of this rewetted – increasing to 40% restored by 2040 and 50% by 2050, with one third of this area rewetted.


Rewetting proved contentious for farming organisations when the law was being debated in the European Parliament, but the official estimate of the area of drained, farmed peatlands – on which the law’s targets are based – was cut significantly on the back of new Teagasc research. This research, in combination with lower targets than had been originally proposed, could see Ireland’s entire rewetting obligations met on State lands.

What’s left to be decided?

With the law now passed, Ireland will have two years to draw up a national restoration plan outlining the details of which measures it intends on rolling out to meet its targets, where these measures will be targeted and how much they are expected to cost.

Government has stated that the completion of the plan will coincide with its opening of the €3.15bn climate and nature fund announced under Budget 2024. This fund has been suggested to be the main funding source for measures rolled out under the plan between 2026 and 2030.

Preparatory work has already been completed on convening a stakeholder group led by an independent chair, which is to play a key role in drawing up the national plan and designing the schemes which will be offered to farmers to meet its targets.

Farming organisations are to be invited to participate in this consultation process.

The measures which farmers are to be paid to complete under the plan, depend on the interpretation of definitions contained in the law, such as what actions must be carried out for a habitat to be deemed “restored” and contributing towards the law’s targets.

Examples of restoration measures cited in the law range from reduced grazing intensity, to stopping the application of fertiliser, pesticides and animal manures.

A national restoration plan will be drafted over the next two years, outlining how Ireland will meet its targets under the law.