Calls have been made for farmers to receive payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for not farming by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT).
The IWT highlighted its position as part of its submission to the future of CAP; it is calling on the Government to support the ‘rewilding‘ of land in certain areas by paying farmers for not farming.
In a statement, the trust said: “A significant driver of habitat loss under the existing CAP is the requirement for all land to be in agricultural production, regardless of whether it is suitable for this purpose.
“This promotes the setting of fires, drainage of wet areas and removal of emerging woodland (scrub). The IWT would, therefore, like to see a new measure which would allow landowners to benefit from restoring land to its natural vegetation cover – typically native woodland.
Removing all grazing pressure from uplands, river corridors or low-lying areas prone to flooding or waterlogging would provide new habitat for wildlife – as well as public goods such as flood alleviation, enhancing water quality, carbon storage and amenity.
It is a measure which could be applied at a landscape-scale – for example, across a mountain range or within fields where farmers know that grass growth is poor, the IWT explained.
This type of ‘rewildling’ measure, which should be optional for landowners, has “enormous potential” to deliver public goods at low cost to the taxpayer, it added.
Protection of the environment
The trust supports the CAP and the central principle of direct payments to farmers. It also acknowledges that farming in the EU produces high-quality food at affordable prices.
But, it believes that the CAP has failed when it comes to protecting the environment.
Continuing, the IWT said: “Ireland is currently undergoing an extinction crisis at a scale and breadth which has not been witnessed in human history.
“The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) – the state agency which monitors the health of our biodiversity – tells us that only five of 58 of our most important habitats are in ‘good’ status. Of species, a slightly better 32 of 69 are in ‘good’ status.
It highlights agriculture as the single biggest pressure on these habitats and species.
“The loss of flowers and the increasing use of pesticides associated with intensive agriculture is responsible for catastrophic declines in bee populations, and one third of species are threatened with extinction.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that over half of our water bodies are polluted and the single biggest contributor to this is agriculture.”
Going forward, the Irish Government must acknowledge the “overriding imperative” to create a CAP which can restore wildlife populations and water quality, according to the IWT.
With regards to CAP reform and the European Commission’s CAP communication, published in late 2017, the trust welcomed the emphasis on greater decision-making at a local level, as different geographical locations will require different solutions.
The new CAP must also be based upon measurable outcomes, giving farmers the incentive to choose the solutions which best suit their land.
“Previous schemes – such as REPS, AEOS or the current GLAS scheme – encourage positive actions, but are failing in reversing declines in wildlife populations or improving water quality.
“The Irish state has legally-binding environmental obligations to protect and restore biodiversity, water and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; it is failing on all of these fronts.
“The impending reform of the CAP provides an opportunity to reverse this poor record, while ensuring farmers’ livelihoods and maintaining a high quality of food production,” the IWT concluded.