Some 15,000 commonage farmers have been left in limbo by Minister Humphreys and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, INHFA National Secretary Michael McDonnell has said.

McDonnell was speaking after the association wrote an open letter to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, saying she had failed them with regards to the implementation of the Commonage Framework Plan (CFP).

The letter raises concerns regarding the Department’s approach to commonages and designated lands and questions if their inspectors are being adequately trained to assess these lands from an environmental and habitat viewpoint.

Despite there being a proposed review of the CFP every five years, no review has been carried out over the 16-year life time of the CFP, according to the INHFA.

The failure by the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to re-assess these plans has denied farmers the opportunity to change the way they manage their commonage, the INHFA has said.

Farmers have also found themselves in direct conflict with the Department of Agriculture, in relation to the Basic Payment Scheme around land eligibility, it said.

Concerns were also raised in the letter regarding the 39 actions requiring consent on designated (Natura) lands. The association said that these actions, especially around fencing, directly impact on farmer’s ability to manage their lands.

The INHFA also questioned the proposed Commonage Management Plans (CMP) and its role in relation to the management of the commonages and how it fits in with the older CFP.

Other concerns
  • What will be expected of farmers if the new CMP comes into force?
  • Will the plan finish at 5 years or will any obligations the farmer signs up to continue after this?
  • Is it a farm plan or a plan to manage the habitat?
  • Do farmers and the approved (agri) planners have suitable academic qualifications for accessing environmental habitats, as they may now have to deliver specific results that will involve more than just delivering stock numbers?

McDonnell said that there is total frustration on the ground among farmers of designated or commonage land and that there has been very little engagement with farmers from the Minister.

“There has never been a follow up assessment carried out on designated land or an adjustment made to the stocking rate of land.

“The compulsory 30% de-stocking of designated land in 2000 was very tough to take and in some cases didn’t make sense,” McDonnell said.

A meeting between the INHFA and Minister Humphreys needs to happen sooner rather than later to work out a solution to the problems surrounding farming designated land, according to McDonnell.

“We need to work through these problems together. Unless we have a plan going forward these problems will continue to appear in the future,” McDonnell said.