The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has said it has written to Minister of State for heritage Malcolm Noonan to call for “full stakeholder engagement” on the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

The association also said this morning (Wednesday, May 25) that the minister will submit Ireland’s proposals to the European Commission on the strategy by the end of the year.

Vincent Roddy, the INHFA president, highlighted that the Biodiversity Strategy “will be of critical importance to farming and rural Ireland which is why it has to be got right”.

“The EU Biodiversity Strategy outlines demands that, if applied, will see the area of land designated as special area of conservation [SAC] and special protected area [SPA] increase from 13% to 30%.

“In addition to this, the strategy also details the requirement for a new designation type called ‘strictly protected’ on a minimum of 10% of our land,” Roddy pointed out.

He added: “The SAC and SPA designations have impacted heavily on landowners, due mainly to the restrictions applied under the 38 activities requiring consent [ARCs].”

According to the INHFA president, a “lack of engagement by the state” – which he claims has seen “the majority of farmers” still waiting first correspondence and a management plan 25 years after their lands were designated – has “undermined the habitat status of many of these designated sites”.

“Any proposals to double the area designated as SAC and SPA when the capacity to support and manage them is clearly not there would be a flawed policy.

“So too would any proposals to introduce a new designation that is much more restrictive and would impact more severely,” Roddy added.

In the letter to Minister Noonan, the INHFA called for “Full engagement [with stakeholders], especially with those that will be most impacted such as our farmers and local rural communities.”

The farm organisation has also called for a process similar to the one adopted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine when developing Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan.

“A process similar to this is vital prior to the finalisation of any submission from Ireland on the EU Biodiversity Strategy.”

Roddy expressed concern that the strategy and its changes “could be signed and sealed without adequate consultation with key stakeholders while the state uses the Citizens Assembly [on biodiversity] that is currently deliberating as a pretense for public consultation”.