Calls for reinstatement of the National Farm Plan Scheme for SAC farmers

Secretary of the Shannon Action Committee (SAC) John Egan has called for the reinstatement of the National Farm Plan Scheme for farmers in the Shannon Callows region who became “locked out” in 2012.

The scheme was introduced in 2004 and implemented in 2006; it was to last for a period of 15 years, or for as long as the designation lasted, and focused on compensating farmers whose lands became designated under Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Meanwhile, the Shannon Action Committee was established by farmers in the five flood prone counties of the Shannon Callows – Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, north Tipperary and Galway – as part of a concerted effort to find a solution to the flooding issues in the region.

‘Farmers being discriminated against’

Egan – who spoke to AgriLand from his native Shannon Harbour in Co. Offaly, where hundreds of acres of land was left flooded in the aftermath of recent heavy rainfall – says that while some 53 landowners in the Shannon Callows are in receipt of payments under the scheme, there are many others who aren’t. It is those farmers who Egan says “are now being discriminated against”.

Shannon Harbour lands are also designated SAC and rare breeds of birds have their habitat there.

Egan says that 13% of the country’s land was designated SAC and that most of it is owned by Coillte, Bord na Moná, National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) and the ESB.

However, considerable tracts of privately owned land in various areas of the country were also designated and these areas of SAC had to comply with the specific rules or burdens placed upon them.

Egan continued: “Farmers suddenly found themselves unable to farm as they wished and were therefore unable to maximise their lands to full potential.”

‘SAC burdens’

The dry stock farmer went on to say that burdens were subsequently placed on farmers to comply with the EU Habitats directive. The Shannon Callows is renowned for its habitat for curlew, corncrake, lapwings, swans, including whooper and bewick breeds as well as other breeding waders and rare birds.

“The callows are also recognised as unique for the diversity of flora – second only to the Burren in Co. Clare – and most of the Shannon Callows is privately owned.”

He says the request is a simple one.

Without consultation on our lands – namely the callow lands of the mid-shannon – were protected and made SACs.

Egan continued: “The scheme was put together to recompense farmers and landowners who were faced with the onerous tasks placed upon them in order to comply with the directive; our lands must be farmed in a certain manner, at designated times, without disturbing the natural balance that could threaten the flora and fauna.”

The Co. Offaly native went on to say that farmers cannot continue to allow their lands to remain “continuously fallow” because the land must be farmed.

“The scheme was paid to affected farmers and landowners until 2012 and then it ceased without consultation; however, there were 53 farmers who remained in a position to access payment under the scheme,” continued Egan.

He concluded: “While those of us who got locked out were offered ease of access to agricultural schemes like GLAS – these schemes are available to farmers of all lands on successful application. They do not compensate farmers in SAC areas, ourselves included.”