The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has outlined the potential threat to the future of upland farming in the Nature Restoration Law.
In discussing this, National President Vincent Roddy pointed to Article 4 (2) of the proposed law that requires Member States to “put in place the restoration measures that are necessary to re-establish the habitat types listed in Annex 1 in areas not covered by those habitat types.”
In Ireland, the most dominant Annex 1 habitat type is wet and dry heath which covers almost all of our hills. This Article Roddy stated “will require the re-establishment of these habitat features in areas where they no longer exist, and where they do exist and are deemed to be damaged, will require landowners and farmers to restore these areas to good condition”
In assessing these habitat areas Member States can he added “go back as far as they deem necessary to establish the habitat type and condition.” This is facilitated under Article 11(2)(iii) which details “the favourable reference area taking into account the documented losses over at least the last 70 years”.
When establishing timescales relating to land change there is, stated the INHFA President “a report conducted by AC Stevenson DBA Thompson – The Holocene, 1993 that details Long-term changes in the extent of heather moorland in upland Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years.” (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/095968369300300108)
“This and possibly other reports that we have not yet found will, through the Nature Restoration Law, provide the basis for the Irish State to act against existing landowners as they aim to re-establish our upland areas to a pre-famine landscape” added Roddy.
Unfortunately, the potential impact of this law for hill farmers and their communities is “something that has been lost on many, including our public representatives, and while there are attempts (albeit poor) to address concerns around the rewetting of drained peatlands the agenda to re-wild and depopulate our uplands is well on course.”
For hill farmers and their communities, the re-establishment of these long-lost habitats will, stressed the INHFA President, “see an end to farming and while there may be an assumption that these farmers will be paid to deliver on ecosystem services there is no indication of this in the proposed law.”
However, what we see in this law is, he added, “a clear threat to existing support under Article 12 (2)(m) which details the need to address subsidies that could negatively affect the achievement of the law’s objectives. In this article it seeks a description of such subsidies and in amendments proposed by the Environment Committee of the EU Parliament proposes to go even further by suggesting they address future potential subsidies and the need to phase out, redirect or reform these subsidies.”
“Beyond the clear threat to farm subsidies, there is for our upland farmers no reference to how the re-establishment costs will be paid for. As this is a law with legally binding targets, will the farmers/landowners be expected to cover these costs” asked Roddy
With regard to support, the INHFA leader “noted how the Environment committee of the Parliament have under Article 9 (4)(c) proposed to incentivise rewetting on a voluntary basis, however, there is no such proposal for farmers on our hills impacted by habitat re-establishment.”
In concluding the INHFA President stated “how 25 years ago many hill farmers were thrown under the bus with the implementation of the SAC and SPA land designations. This happened under the watchful eye of our politicians that did nothing to protect them. Once again we are at a critical point and we must now ask what politicians will step forward and do what they are elected to do, that is to protect those that have put them there.”