New biodiversity land designations will make farming ‘next to impossible’

New land designations will make farming “next to impossible” according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

Last May, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy, outlining details to increase the level of Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) designations.

The EU plans for 30% of land in Europe to be designated as such and 10% of land to be designated under a new ‘strictly protected’ category.

As AgriLand has previously reported, there have been growing concerns over the EU’s strategy and its potential impact on farmers, with the INHFA stating that it has the potential to “undermine farmer incomes”.

Also Read: 'Wolves in sheep's clothing' - hill farmers react to Biodiversity Strategy

As a category ‘1a’ designation, ‘strictly protected’ carries the highest level of protection and, where applied, will make farming “next to impossible”. That’s according to Brendan Joyce of the INHFA.

‘The jigsaw that is being assembled’

The INHFA has also reacted to the announcement of the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE project, for which the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has been awarded EU funding of €20.6m for a project focused on protecting and restoring blanket bog and associated habitat.

“This designation is to be targeted at farm land with peat soils. These soils are to be found in the lowlands on drained peatlands and on the farmed blanket bogs predominately on our hills,” Joyce said.

“The latter is the land type covered by the LIFE project and with proposed actions around rewetting and reductions in stock numbers, one can see the jigsaw that is being assembled.

Of the €20.6 million announced for the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE project, only €3.2 million will be paid to farmers in direct measures. On a very simple calculation, this translates to an average payment per hectare of €1.57.

“Farmers have seen headlines that say €400/ha for rush removal; €350/ha to extensively graze and not spread fertilizer; €200/ha towards scrub removal; €520/ha for delayed mowing along with money for creating ponds and money for deliberate wetting of farmed peatlands.”

Joyce stated that the LIFE project had to be “delivered over a nine-year period, on an area stretching from Donegal to Clare, covering a total of 225,552ha of Natura lands”.

With only 15% of the €20.6 million LIFE budget going directly to farmers, is there is a requirement to examine where is the remaining €16.7 million is being spent?

“In this budget we see over €2 million earmarked for the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] to purchase land off farmers but that still leaves nearly €15 million over the lifetime of the project.

“This is a significant budget that we believe is being set aside for informing legislation and possible actions.”