New EU land designations will see large areas of farmland ‘sterilised’ – INHFA

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has raised concerns that new EU land designations will have “major implications for farming, business and community life”.

President of the INHFA Colm O’Donnell said that details of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy will have “concerning implications”.

At the launch of an awareness campaign this weekend in Mayo, O’Donnell outlined the details as “an increase of land area designated as Special Areas of Conservation [SAC] or Special Protection Areas [SPA] from 13% up to 30%, as well as a new designation of ‘strictly protected areas’ which will be applied on a minimum of 10% of the country’s land base”.

“With this designation targeted at carbon-rich soils (peatlands), western counties will see large areas of land sterilised as farming activity is ended,” O’Donnell said.

There will be major implications for community and business development in areas where this is applied, as planning permission for new houses, businesses or public infrastructure such as roads and water treatment plants will be impossible to obtain.

O’Donnell said that the concerns about these implications are valid, as he has seen similar happen before, saying:

“The proposed ring road for Galway city has not yet happened and is unlikely to – on the current route – because of an SAC designation,” he said.

“In Sligo, 17,000 people remain on a boil water notice because of the delays in the building of a water treatment plant, due to another SAC designation.

“Of course, for farmers dealing with these designations, the 39 actions requiring consent has restricted their ability to farm their lands. Very often, these actions have failed to deliver positive environmental outcomes.

This has happened due to the lack of regard given to current farming systems – many of which were low-input, extensive and often delivered a much better environmental outcome prior to designation.

O’Donnell concluded, saying: “The proposed strictly protected designation is a ‘category 1a’ designation, making it the most restrictive and one that requires the removal of any human activity and cessation of all projects including road and water treatment plants.

“Proposed areas will be mapped and sent to Brussels by the end of this year, which is why we have to move on this now.”