More destocking of our hills will only compound the problems – INHFA

The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have hit out at demands made by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) for an urgent destocking of our hills to help restore peatland ecosystems. In response to these calls INHFA President Colm O’Donnell stressed “how the destocking of our hills over 20 years ago is still a very raw issue with many farmers and any proposal to revisit this will not be entertained.”

In addressing the failed policy of destocking O’Donnell stated how “it has not only failed our farmers but also failed in its intention to deliver better environmental outcomes on our hills. On the Burren we also saw how the removal of stock had a negative environmental impact but thankfully the mistake here was acknowledged in time and stock were reintroduced.”
In their rush to blame farmers it is, he added “unfortunate that those members of the IWT didn’t take the time to look beyond their own prejudices to see the bigger picture and the important role farming livestock has in the delivery of positive environmental outcome.”

Our hills he continued “are managed landscapes. This is something members of the IWT and others need to understand. The problem is not our farmers the problem is the restrictions these farmers have to work under.”
These restrictions were introduced through the Natura 2000 network in the mid 1990’s which he stated “saw large areas of land especially on our hills designated as special areas of conservation (SAC) and special protected areas (SPA). These new SAC and SPA sites were designated because they had a good environmental standing which was delivered by the farmers through their management practices.”

However, over the last twenty years many of these sites have according to the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) gone backwards and stated O’Donnell “farmers and their stock are blamed for this by the IWT and other keyboard warriors.”
There is he continued “understandable anger by many farmers at the way they have been treated over the last twenty years. Despite delivering habitats of exceptional value worth protecting, they are rewarded with restrictions that have sterilised their land and undermined these habitats. Through these restrictions they have lost income and seen the value of their land fall. Their freedom to farm is limited through the 39 actions requiring consent with additional costs loaded onto farmers through these 39 actions.

The regression outlined by the NPWS of the SAC and SPA habitats is, stated the INHFA leader “a result of the 39 actions requiring consent not the actions of our farmers. If the IWT and other environmentalists need to blame someone then turn your ire to the NPWS, because it is the NPWS who didn’t and still haven’t put in place any management plans for these sites. It was the role of the NPWS to work with farmers and provide them with advice based in scientific fact. It was also the duty of the NPWS as a State Body to ensure farmers were not at a financial loss as they worked through the burden of their restrictions. They did none of this and still get a free pass, while the IWT and others dump on farmers – is it any wonder we are at boiling point.”

In relation to the issues raised by the IWT, O’Donnell outlined one point they made that he agreed with, that being that the designations are a failed policy, which is why proposals to increase the total area of land designated SAC or SPA and introduce a new designation is something that should concern us all.

In concluding the INHFA President outlined how our hill farmers are the real environmentalists here who have shown they can deliver. “We are the professionals so maybe it is time for the amateurs to leave the field.”