Land designation under EU Biodiversity Strategy ‘could decimate rural Ireland’

Proposed new land designations outlined under the European Commission’s Biodiversity Strategy could “decimate rural Ireland” if implemented, according to one independent TD.

Michael Fitzmaurice, a TD for Roscommon-Galway, noted that, under these proposals, the amount of land in Ireland classified as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA) would increase from 13% to 30%.

“As well as this, the strategy proposes the introduction of a new designation named ‘Strictly Protected Areas’. The strategy outlines that member states would be required to ensure that 10% of land would come under this designation,” the TD pointed out.

If lands fell under this classification, it would reduce the level of human activity allowed in these areas to practically zero. Planning permission for homes or farm developments would practically be impossible to secure. Improvements to roads or other infrastructure would be delayed and difficult to deliver.

“As well as this, there is no guarantee that the amount of land in Ireland classed as ‘strictly protected’ would be capped at 10% – as it might have to carry a higher burden to bring the overall percentage across the EU up,” Fitzmaurice stressed.

He went on: “This could effectively turn swathes of rural Ireland into deserted theme parks, given our high percentage of peatlands compared to other countries in mainland Europe.”

The independent deputy said that he would be working with the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) to “endeavour that this doesn’t come to pass”.


Fitzmaurice also raised concerns over the ‘Good Agricultural and Environment Conditions’ (GAEC) under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which farmers need to comply with in order to be eligible for payments under the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS).

“I support the INHFA’s recommendation that the wording of GAEC 2 – which currently reads as ‘the appropriate protection of wetlands and peatlands’ – needs to be changed,” he said.

When referring to grassland, maintenance is the key word used. There is a significant difference between maintenance and appropriate protection…the problem with appropriate protection is that farmers will have to deliver on every measure imaginable just to be eligible for a BPS payment.

This could leave “no room for farmers to enter an environmental scheme – so on an economic level, these farmers would be disadvantaged by these measure”, Fitzmaurice warned.

“Meanwhile, those who farm areas of drained peatland could be forced to raise the water table on these lands in order to be eligible for a BPS payment. This would have a massive impact for countless farmers, particularly those located in counties along the western seaboard and parts of the midlands,” he concluded.