The Department of Agriculture has published its guidelines for commonage planning.

However, it has still to publish the full list of approved advisors and the software for submitting plans online has yet to be finalised and made available to farmers.

The guidelines give all parties a clear indication of how the planning process will proceed, according to Fergal Monaghan of

He said the methodology for producing a Commonage Management Plan stresses the importance of a field based assessment of the different habitat types on the commonage.

“This is based on the observed condition of a large number of waymarks, distributed throughout the site. These waymarks are selected to represent the range of habitat and conditions that are found on the commonage.

“In aggregate, they give us an indication of the condition of the different habitats. Each waymark is scored by reference to an assessment card which rates it in respect of 6 key parameters. These are Bare Peat, Heather, Sward, Evidence of livestock grazing, Purple Moor Grass and Scrub.”

He said the system is comparable with the methodology used in the old commonage framework plans although it has greater flexibility and is easier to use.

“This card was developed by ourselves here at yourcommonage working closely with Brian Dolan and Michael Martyn and builds on years of experience in assessing upland and peatland habitats. It was field tested and we are satisfied that it is fit for purpose.”

However, it does not however cover turloughs, sand dunes, limestone pavement or dry grasslands and perhaps further work is required to develop a method for dealing with sites like these.

“Nevertheless we now have the tools to get to work on the bulk of Irish commonages, this is a big step forward.”

In relation to data to held by the Department of Agriculture, it is now clear that advisors will have access to data on stock numbers held by those farmers who have signed a Commonage Authorisation Form, he said

“They will also be able to request the total sheep numbers held by claimants to a particular commonage. However these stock numbers are indicative only as some farmers may be involved in several commonages and there is no way of apportioning stock numbers to a specific commonage.”

Monaghan said the role of the Commonage Implementation Committee has been clarified and it will now serve to adjudicate on requests by advisors for derogations from the normal rules of the scheme.

In this regard, Monaghan said, they will consider requests from advisors for reductions in the minimum stock numbers to be held both by individuals and in some cases for the whole commonage.

“This is of particular relevance to situations where existing stable flocks would have faced cuts to allow for stock to be held by previously inactive farmers entering GLAS. In these situations, the guidelines now provide for new applicants to contribute as little as 50% of their share of the commonage.

“This coupled with a widening of the gap between the minimum and maximum stocking rates (up to 20% above or below the calculated sustainable stock number)will minimise the impact on existing flocks and still allow for previously inactive shareholders to participate.”

While the layout of a Commonage Management Plan has been published although on line submissions will not be possible for another three to four weeks, he said.