INHFA calls for budget support to recognise cost of designations

In its budget submission, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has called on the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, to “acknowledge the cost her department has placed on farmers through the designation process”.

INHFA spokesperson Brendan Joyce said: “The designating of the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) has enforced real costs on farmers with these lands that have never been acknowledged by the department.”

Currently, almost 14% of the country has been designated as either an SAC or an SPA in a process that started in 2002.

“This designation process – which is only now going through its final ratification – has been arduous and never sought farmer buy-in which is why it has been a failure to date.

“This process should – at its commencement – have sought farmer buy-in through proper engagement from the department.

Unfortunately, many farmers have learnt the hard way that the designation process is costing them money.

“These costs are incurred through a variety of unforeseen actions and requirements such as additional planning costs – if they wanted to put up a new fence – or their inability to secure bank loans on designated lands resulting from the significant devaluation of their property.

“Farmers have also seen how every morning, before they start the day, they need to consider if their activity for that day will require permission from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Fencing has already been referred to as one action requiring consent but there are 38 others such as reopening a drain, spreading of lime, fertiliser or farmyard manure, topping, mulching or the use of a digger.

“All of these are measures, which farmers may have to consult with the NPWS ranger or apply for planning which slows down their day-to-day activity and ultimately their profitability.”

Joyce concluded by outlining how the INHFA has been involved in talks with the NPWS for the last two years in reviewing the agreement that has not worked.

“It is now time for the minister to fully engage and ensure that a meaningful payment is put in place in the upcoming budget that acknowledges the costs placed on all designated farmers by the state.”