As politicians, NGO’s and the wider media rush to embrace ambitious proposals to increase biodiversity and address climate change, there is, according to the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association, a real danger that farmers will once again be the big losers.
In discussing this INHFA President Colm O’Donnell stressed the need to firstly engage with farmers and landowners before any changes are made, that will impact how they farm and will also undermine the value of their lands.
Since the late 1990’s farmers have, he stated “lost control of their lands as the EU and Irish State has effectively claimed squatters’ rights on their property through the implementation of the SAC and SPA designations.”
Through the 38 actions requiring consent (ARC’s) on these lands, farmers have he continued “being sidelined to the role of passive onlookers through the squatting actions of our State as applied through the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS).”
Unfortunately, these actions have “failed for both the farmer and the environment as detailed by an NPWS report outlining how 92% of these habitats have stagnated or regressed while under their control. Habitats delivered by our farmers through their farming practices, and identified because they were worth protecting. For these farmers the last 20 years has, stressed the INHFA President “been very difficult. In this period, they have been denied the opportunity to manage their lands while also being blamed for any regression in the habitat status and now the Irish State and EU want to drive on with this failed policy.”
Proposals in the EU Biodiversity Strategy to double the area of land designated and introduce a more restrictive designation type titled strictly protected will stated O’Donnell “fail as the current policy has, because just like the 1990’s we have a policy dictated to us from Europe without any consultation with the landowners. It’s also very important not to turn a blind eye to the thousands of farm families who farm those lands daily and support our local businesses .”
“If the EU and Irish State are serious about protecting our biodiversity and improving habitat status then they need to engage with our farmers who have delivered in the past and can do so again” stated the farm leader.In doing this, he continued “there needs to be an acceptance that the ongoing policy of squatting on farmer’s land is wrong and must be reversed.”
Concluding O’Donnell warned “how failure to address this will have major consequences for the ongoing policy and any new strategy, as farmers and their families are at breaking point on this.”