Proposed buffer zones around active turbary areas will impact on ACRES payments says INHFA

The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have expressed alarm around proposals by the DAFM to include a buffer area of 100 meters around active turbary areas on commonages.

Speaking on this INHFA Vice President John Joe Fitzgerald detailed how “these proposals, if applied will have a major impact on the overall habitat score of these commonages that will see reduced ACRES payments to farmers.”

On many commonages active turf cutting is still a factor and this was an issue outlined last year prior to the habitat assessment (scoring) of these commonages. In discussions the INHFA had with DAFM staff last year Fitzgerald outlined how an understanding was reached that allowed for the areas where turf was being cut, to be separated from the overall area and scored separately. This Fitzgerald maintained “was also confirmed by Minister of State Pippa Hackett in a Parliamentary reply to Deputy Rose Conway Walsh.”

Through these and subsequent discussions, there was, he continued, “no reference to buffer zones and neither do they feature as part of the terms and conditions of the scheme. So while the solution (scoring these areas separately) wasn’t ideal, it did protect the wider area of commonages where turf cutting was still ongoing.”

At a time when farmers were expecting payments to issue, it is stressed Fitzgerald “unacceptable that farmers could take a major financial hit over factors that are in most instances outside their control.”

In explaining this the INHFA leader detailed how “many people that are cutting turf on commonages may not even be farmers, but as they have a legal turbary right there is nothing any farmer on that commonage can do to stop them.” With regard to the turbary plots these are, he added “often spread across the commonage so when a buffer zone of 100m is applied there is a real danger that substantial parts of these commonages will get a negative habitat score which will undermine the overall habitat score and payment rates.”

In concluding Fitzgerald detailed how “we have written to the Minister and his staff on this and are currently awaiting a meeting.”