The new Wild Atlantic Nature Project “has to give farmers maximum flexibility” to be a success, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

An IFA delegation – including IFA Rural Development chairman Michael Biggins, IFA Hill chairman Flor McCarthy, Mayo IFA Hill rep Pat Chambers and Mayo IFA chairman Jarlath Walsh – held a meeting with the project organisers earlier this week.

An outdoor hill assessment meeting was held in Mayo, the organisation said.

The Wild Atlantic Nature Project is focused primarily on the blanket bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and associated lands from Galway Bay up to north Donegal.

The project’s objective is to achieve good habitat quality in the north-western SACs.

Derek McLoughlin and Garry Goggins of the LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project gave a detailed presentation on how each land parcel would be scored on an actual inspection.

The presence of undisturbed ground with many of the local grasses, heathers and moss will score the maximum points, while poached or overgrazed and the presence of turf cutting may reduce the score, the project team outlined.

Questions were raised about how each individual’s enclosed and commonage lands will be marked on the complex score card system which will determine payment rates.

Commenting afterwards, IFA Hill Committee chairman Flor McCarthy said:

“The Wild Atlantic Nature Life IP or any other scheme must not lead to increased restrictions on farms and we welcome clarification that participating farmers will be allowed to stock their land to its potential.”

According to the IFA, it is planned to pilot the project in the Owenduff/Nephin SAC area for 2021 and 2022 with payments for both years.

It is to open for all farmers in the Owenduff/Nephin SAC area to submit an expression of interest from Monday next until June 14.

IFA Rural Development chairman Michael Biggins said all farmers who submit an expression of interest to participate in the project must be included.

Mayo IFA chairman Jarlath Walsh advised farmers who wished to join the pilot project to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions.

Details of the new scheme will be published and circulated to hill farmers in the area immediately, the IFA concluded.