The issue of land designation and the restrictions for farmers in effected areas was a major point of concern at the AGM of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) yesterday (Thursday, June 2).

Addressing the meeting, INHFA president Vincent Roddy said that land designations was of “vital importance”.

“Since their introduction almost 25 years ago, farmers and in recent times local communities have had to deal with their restrictive impact, while seeing no obvious benefit,” Roddy said.

“Now farmers, like everyone else, want to protect our environment and our biodiversity, but how we are doing this is not working.

“For 25 years we have persisted with a policy of designating lands as special areas of conservation (SAC) or special protected area (SPA). Once designated, the state has outlined that these lands are restricted under the 38 ‘activities requiring consent’ (ARC),” Roddy explained.

He claimed: “Farmers have been left without any guidance or management plan for these sites but enough fear has been instilled to ensure that they comply with the 38 ARCs.”

Roddy argued that conservation requires active management.

“If the state is serious about addressing concerns around biodiversity loss it will need to actively engage with farmers and their representatives. This needs to be an immediate priority for the state, as the clock is ticking on this.”

This engagement, the INHFA president told members, will need to acknowledge the financial burden imposed though the designation and pay the landowners accordingly.

He also called for the 38 ARCs to be reviewed and possibly removed.

According to Roddy, it is “ironic and maybe even frightening” that there are proposals through the EU Biodiversity Strategy to more than double the area of designated land, as well as to apply a new level of designation called ‘strictly protected’ on at least 10% of agricultural land area.

“Engagement at this level is absolutely essential, as this has the potential to herald the most significant change in land use policy since the foundation of the state. Once applied, a designation is permanent.

“The people that will be most impacted by this will be farmers and rural communities and this is where the engagement must start. As I said already we are all willing to play our part in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. But in doing this we have to also make a living,” he said.

“The key is to find a way in which we can do both. This is why we need the engagement. Imposing legislation without addressing these concerns will not work, as evidenced by the existing designations,” Roddy argued.