Changes have been made to the requirements of the ‘Space for Nature’ action under the eco-scheme and the Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) scheme to address an anomaly that some farmers were facing.
The action requires farmers to leave at least 4% space for nature on their land, if they wish to meet the criteria of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) 8.
However, 2% of farmers were not able to meet this threshold, which compromised their access to multiple payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA).
Changes announced this week by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) will rectify this issue though, said the INHFA, which confirmed that a solution will involve exemptions for farmed peatlands as defined under GAEC 2.
These exemptions will be similar to those currently in place for farmers with commonage lands, stated INHFA president Vincent Roddy.
“This should ensure compliance under GAEC 8 for the vast majority of farmers currently impacted,” he said.
“And where farmers still have a problem, there will be the option to fence off parts of field/LIPIS plots and create a space for nature habitat.
“While we don’t anticipate there being a major requirement to create such a habitat, it is vital that this option is still available for the small number of farmers that could be still impacted,” he added.
In a statement, the association said that the “vast majority of farmers impacted by this were extensive hill farmers often operating on designated lands, the very lands most people would have seen as delivering for the environment”.
“This anomaly was a major concern for the organisation and one we highlighted to the minister and Department of Agriculture [Food and the Marine] officials as soon as it became apparent last September.”
Roddy welcomed the development and stated that farmers currently impacted should see the necessary changes made to their maps to reflect these exemptions in their updated Space for Nature percentage.
“Details around this will be seen on farmers’ Ag-Food profile and in the upcoming CAP correspondence, which all farmers will receive from the department in the coming weeks,” he added.
Space for Nature features
Under the CAP schemes, space for nature includes rivers; ponds; ditches; hedgerows; trees; rock; scrub; stone walls; and outcrop, among a number of other elements.
Before these changes, 91% of farmers were able to leave 10% of their land to nature, which allowed them to qualify for two measures under the eco-scheme, while a further 4% of farmers successfully left between 7-10% of land, which qualified them for one eco-scheme measure.
Meanwhile, 5% of farmers left between 4-7% of land to nature, ensuring that they met the requirements for the BISS.
However, 2% of Irish farmers were left under the 4% threshold, compromising both their BISS and eco-scheme payments under the CAP.
The INHFA president also welcomed yesterday’s (Wednesday, March 1) news that all 46,000 applicants to the Agri-Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES) will be accepted.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue made the announcement, stating that all valid applications to the scheme will be accepted, despite the fact that funding for only 30,000 places in Tranche 1 of the scheme was made available under Budget 2023.
“This is very positive news along, it was vital that those farmers were accepted as it shows that they are willing to embrace positive contributions to Ireland’s environmental ambition,” concluded Roddy.