Farmers across the country will be paid to protect biodiversity under Ireland’s revised draft Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan, Senator Pauline O’Reilly has said.

Senator O’Reilly welcomed changes under which farmers will be allowed to draw down full payment on land parcels that contain up to 50% of rock, scrub, trees, copses, woodland and habitat, from January 2023.

These areas were previously ineligible for farm payments, which led to farmers removing high-nature-value habitats with devastating effects for wildlife that relies on trees and scrub for survival, she said.

The senator described the proposals as an effort by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to boost biodiversity.

“This will have the power to create really important pockets of nature right across the wider countryside in Galway and help relieve the pressure there,” she said.

“I know so many farmers and environmental NGOs [non-government organisations] have been pushing for this for such a long time, and I’m glad that we are able to deliver on it,” the senator added.

The original draft CAP Strategic Plan included a figure of 30%, however it was revised upwards following an observation letter received from the European Commission in March.

The Green Party in Galway said changes to eligibility are very significant for the west of Ireland, and are designed to help farming families, according to Senator O’Reilly.

Connemara councillor, Alastair McKinstry also welcomed the revised CAP Strategic Plan, saying that problems with farm payments in recent years have led to the unnecessary and damaging removal of valuable habitats.

CAP Strategic Plan

The resubmitted draft also outlines that grassland parcels which contain between 50.01% and 70% of rock, scrub, trees, copses, woodland and habitat will be mapped and deducted from the eligible area.

However, where these features constitute more than 70.01% of a grassland parcel’s make-up, or over 50.01% of an arable parcel, the entire area will be deemed ineligible.

The latest draft of the CAP Strategic Plan has been submitted to the commission for its consideration, while the CAP Consultative Committee is set to meet again in September.