‘Farmers on designated land are being led up the garden path’

Farmers have reacted angrily to the lack of action being taken by Minister Heather Humphreys in relation to compensation for farmers on designated land.

Speaking following a meeting with the Designated Areas Monitoring Committee, the ICSA’s Seamus Sherlock said “Farmers on designated land, including Hen Harrier farmers, are being led up the garden path by Government agencies.

“It is almost two years since the presentation of a report on forestry to the Hen Harrier committee, which demonstrated that forestry plantations – for the first 12 years – provided an ideal habitat for Hen Harriers. Yet the blanket ban on afforestation by farmers continues in the Hen Harrier areas,” he added.

Sherlock said the latest indications suggest that the locally-led scheme strategy is in real trouble, due to a challenge to the tender process.

“This suggests that it is unlikely Hen Harrier farmers will see any benefit from locally-led schemes in 2017.

Meanwhile, farmers in designated areas are being taken for fools when they are lectured to about how GLAS is for them, when in fact the payment ceilings for GLAS result in designated farmers getting very limited net compensation from their designation.

“It is misleading to suggest that a farmer in a GLAS scheme getting €5,000 is being compensated for the designation to that amount when he could, in all likelihood, have qualified for a huge proportion of that money without the designation,” he said.

Sherlock called on the Minister to go to the Cabinet to seek an allocation of funding for a new National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) scheme – in line with previous schemes that were in place before 2010.

“We have to go back to the principle that every designated hectare must be compensated.

“There is also considerable outrage that industrial scale windfarm projects are being sanctioned on SPA ground and a blind eye is being turned to the potential environmental damage, yet farmers are not permitted to plant even one acre of forestry.

ICSA is sick and tired of the go-slow in dealing with these issues.

“This has been the first meeting of the Designated Areas Monitoring Committee in a number of years and the Hen Harrier consultation has gone up a blind alley. Seven years on, designated farmers such as Hen Harrier farmers and Callows farmers are left in limbo,” he said.

“Farmers have been losing confidence in the whole process, due to the ongoing delays in finding solutions. Designation places an enormous burden upon farmers and undermines land values. It is time for Minister Humphreys to step up and sort out this mess,” he said.

IFA voices its concerns

In addition, IFA SAC Project Chairman Padraic Joyce has accused the NPWS of reneging on previous commitments on designated SAC and SPA areas, by refusing to put in place a proper compensation scheme for farmers with designated land.

Joyce also said the NPWS failed to take into account the devaluation of land as a result of designation.

He also pointed specifically to the Hen Harrier areas where land has been sterilised and has been devalued without a proper compensation scheme.

Forestry, as an option for farmers with this land, has been closed off for the past six years. Promises made under the Threat Response plan have not been delivered upon.

The locally-led Hen Harrier scheme appears to have hit the rocks and promises made by the Government for a meaningful scheme have not been delivered on, he said.

The IFA representative also called on Minister Humphreys to engage on the problems of designated land and show support to landowners whose income and property values are effected by designations.