The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers have expressed alarm regarding proposals to target hill and commonage lands for renewed land eligibility inspections. In a hard hitting letter to Minister Creed which was issued to all Oireachtas members the organisation has pressed the Department of Agriculture for proper engagement and clarification in relation to the management of the uplands and its many unique habitats. The letter also carries the threat of the organisation making a formal complaint to the EU Commission as they believe the State could end up breaching the Birds & Habitats Directives.
National Chair Vincent Roddy outlined how they understand these new inspections could see large areas of land made ineligible for payments due to a change in interpretation of EU regulations on land eligibility. If carried through he stated “we will not just see a significant loss of income to farmers but it will also adversely affect the many Natura 2000 (SAC & SPA) habitats.”
The possible destruction of habitats is an issue addressed in the letter with the organisation believing these inspections could lead to;
• A significant loss of biodiversity.
• Affect farm productivity and Ireland’s international green image.
• Threaten widespread land abandonment
• Have devastating economic and social impacts on rural communities.
Mr Roddy stated how “a considerable amount of hill and commonage lands are designated Natura 2000 habitats or subject to these habitat directives. Resulting from this, farmers are required to get permission for 39 different actions which farmers on non-Natura sites are not subject too.” For many farmers he continued “these requirements have restricted their farming activity and ability to deliver a profit from these lands. Unfortunately these facts appear to be ignored by the department who, seem intent of penalising farmers through a flawed interpretation of EU directives on eligible land, with no regard to habitat conservation.”
In simple terms he added “farmers could now be faced with a dilemma – do they continue to farm within the habitat directives and see their land become ineligible or do they ignore the habitat directives by altering the land composition and vegetation in order to ensure it remains eligible for payments.”
He concluded by stating “how the department have flexibility in how they apply EU regulations and there is enough flexibility in EU regulation 1307 2013 Article 4(1)h to ensure these lands remain eligible for payments”