Unrestricted access to our uplands is not a public right says INHFA

With a significant increase in the number of people accessing our hills the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have outlined the need for Minister Catherine Martin, our State bodies and the tourism sector to engage with farmers and ensure they are ok with the general public accessing their lands.

In addressing this INHFA President Colm O’Donnell stated how the last number of weeks has seen an unprecedented number of members contacting our office distressed and frustrated by some hillwalkers showing scant regard for them and their property.”

These farmers have, continued the INHFA President “outlined details of

• hillwalkers ignoring requests to not bring dogs,
• not staying to prescribed pathways,
• not closing gates as instructed,
• blocking access through illegal parking and on some occasions being confrontational and aggressive with farmers.
• And leaving large amounts of rubbish behind them”

“In addition to this with much of our uplands being Natura 2000 sites (SAC or SPA designations) the increased footfall from tourists is now starting to impact and damage some of these sites” added O’Donnell

While recognising the economic benefit a progressive tourism industry can have for local communities, we must, stressed the INHFA leader, “ensure that this is done in partnership with local landowners and farmers. On this basis it is vital that all of those that are benefiting from this sector from, hillwalkers, tour operators, hotels through to our County Councils engage with local farmers and address any issues of concern.”

Through this process, he maintained “there will be farmers and landowners that don’t want the public accessing their lands and this must be respected and enforced. However, there will be a lot of farmers that are amenable to hillwalkers provided they are included and their issues of concern are addressed.”

In developing a plan for this, there is stated O’Donnell “a need for our County Councils (who benefit indirectly through rates) to increase their engagement with a possible starting point being an information campaign around a code of conduct for hillwalkers.”

On concluding he highlighted the danger of continuing to ignore the ever-increasing concerns expressed by farmers with regard to hillwalking. “The goodwill provided by many farmers should not be taken for granted. This is why we are urging the tourism sector, our County Councils and the Minister to engage constructively with farmers in finding a workable solution.”