A lack of demand from farmers in agri-environmental schemes, led to the revision of spending under Natura, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In response to criticism from An Taisce of a the reallocation of €400m in CAP funds, which it says is adversely affecting farmers and wildlife, the Department says that participation in the scheme is voluntary and demand driven.

Participation in agri-environment schemes, including Natura, is voluntary on the part of farmers and expenditure is therefore demand led, it says.

“Actual demand under the measure during the 2007 – 2013 Programme proved to be significantly less than had been provided for.

“Therefore, the financial provision for Natura was revised to reflect the actual spend.”

This involved the reallocation of funds across the agri-environment and Less Favoured Areas schemes in Axis 2 of the Programme without changing the overall spend under that Axis, the Department of Agriculture says.

“Under the initial Financial Plan for the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 an indicative amount of €528m was allocated to Natura 2000.”

It goes on to say that the members of the Rural Development Programme Monitoring Committee were informed of the proposed amendments and amendments made to the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 were processed in full accordance with the regulatory and legislative process in place.

While €95m was expended under the Natura budget line this does not take into account expenditure under the agri-environment budget line that complemented and incentivised farmers with Natura land to engage with the agri-environment scheme, the Department of Agriculture said.

READ: An Taisce challenges reallocation of €400m of CAP funds.