INHFA writes to TDs and senators over management of protected land

Farmers with land under Natura 2000 designations are owed a combined €130 million per year, or €150/ha, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA).

The association has told TDs and senators that this money should be paid out to these farmers, while also calling for the responsibility of administering protected land be moved from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

In a letter addressed to members of the Oireachtas, INHFA president Colm O’Donnell said: “I am writing…with regard to the administration and financial burden of our Natura 2000 sites.

O’Donnell claimed that the organisation is often contacted by farmers – who have land classed as special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protected areas (SPAs) – who are “angry and frustrated” by the impact of the designations.

“The view of many of these farmers, as expressed to us, is that these designations are a major burden that continues to undermine their farming enterprise. This burden is exemplified through additional costs; the requirements to get permission in carrying out normal farming activities; and the devaluation of their land.” the INHFA president remarked.

He stated that these land designations negatively impact farmers’ eligibility for the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS), with farmers “trying to serve two masters”, with policies from the Department of Agriculture “at odds” with habitat management requirements.

Currently, we don’t believe a solution will be found because the concerns of farmers are not a priority inside the Department of Culture. In addition to this, we would also question how much of a priority the appropriate management of these lands is for this department.

“We are requesting that all responsibilities for the management of Natura 2000 sites be moved to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine,” O’Donnell said.

He argued: “For far too long, successive governments have ignored their responsibilities on this issue and underpaid farmers in their attempts to do this on the cheap. This is no longer acceptable, nor is piecemeal offerings through GLAS [Green, Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme] or other agri-environmental schemes.”

Payment

“In addition to the transfer of all responsibilities into the Department of Agriculture, we need to ensure, at a starting point, that the €130m/year owed to farmers with Natura 2000 designations is paid. After this we can negotiate on the monies owed for the past 20 years,” O’Donnell wrote.

He added: “Our farmers are our best option to manage these lands, but they need to be respected and included. This has not happened to date which is why we need a fresh start.”

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