Land designations are now a real threat to rural communities says INHFA

Following the successful challenge by Friends of the Irish Environment to halt works on a flood relief scheme to protect houses in the Lough Funshinagh area of Roscommon the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have warned of ongoing consequences for rural communities as a result of the Natura 2000 designations.

For many years the Natura 2000 designations, which are predominantly Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) and Special Protected Areas (SPA’s) have been seen as an issue for those cutting turf and the farming community. However, over the last number of years their impact outside of these two sectors has become more apparent.

In discussing this, Brendan Joyce from the INHFA outlined how key infrastructural projects have been delayed and often shelved due to objections and compliance requirements with the Natura 2000 directives. We have, stated Joyce “seen hold-ups on water treatment and waste water treatment plants, leisure and tourist facilities, our ports and our road network ”

In addition to these infrastructural projects we are, added Joyce “seeing the impact on job creation as witnessed by the refusal to give planning for further development at the Pairce na Mara site in Connemara due to an SAC designation. This project was intended to focus on developing marine based companies in the area which could have also provided a major employment boost.”

When assessing the impact of these designations Joyce stressed “how the consequences may even be greater for smaller developments and those wanting to build a house. Already we are hearing of planning issues for new dwelling housing that are on Natura sites and within the 15 km buffer zone of an SAC or SPA designation. Unfortunately with proposals under the EU Biodiversity Strategy to more than double the area of land designated, our expectation is that this will become a much bigger issue in the coming years.”

In addressing the proposed EU Biodiversity Strategy Joyce stated “how we need to firstly assess the impact of the current designations which accounts for 13% of our land base. Through this assessment we must recognize its impact on landowners and the wider community and address those concerns. The idea of driving on with more designations when there is so much resentment to the current designations is a policy that is doomed to fail.

Landowners, farmers and our rural communities are “more than happy to play their part in protecting our vulnerable habitats. The fact that these habitats are there is testament to the actions of these communities and previous generations” Joyce stated.
As we plan a way forward it is stressed Joyce “vital that we bring these communities and their people with us. The Burren in Clare is a clear example of how important it is to manage these habitats with the help of the local farming community on the ground .”

In concluding Joyce stated “how any policy that undermines local communities is doomed to fail. This is why we are asking Friends of the Irish Environment and all those that want to protect and improve our environment to reassess their approach and engage constructively with the local communities. A conciliatory approach such as this can have much better outcomes for the habitats and the people that have helped to create and protect them.”