Compensation to commonage farmers?

UPDATE: The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has this morning outlined a series of proposals aimed at unleashing the benefits of well-managed commonages for the communities that depend on them.

The recommendations are contained in a Committee Report that is aimed at providing a roadmap for policymakers to safeguard and enhance commonages, drawing on current best practice of successful management of these lands.

The committee has argued against one-size-fits-all solutions, noting that each management scheme must be based on and address the unique characteristics of individual commonages. The committee has also called for commonage lands to be more clearly defined and that studies be undertaken to assess the impact of dormancy and changing farming methods on the management of commonages.

Launched in Leinster House this morning, the ‘Review of Commonage Lands and Framework Management Plans’ intends to provide a timely review of the most recent recommendations from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Other recommendations include:

  • The management of commonages be promoted through output-driven schemes that take careful account of the insights and requirements of those who own and/or manage commonages. The Burren Life Programme is recommended as an output-driven scheme that has provided considerable environmental, agricultural, social and economic benefits in a way that appears to be efficient and effective.
  • Compensation over and above the Single Farm Payment be paid to farmers to meet Department de-stocking requirements on them. The report urges the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to design schemes in conjunction with or in addition to existing REPS/AEOS schemes.
  • That provision be made to extend dates for controlled burning and to return them to the dates that operated in Ireland prior to the Wildlife Act 2000, particularly in upland areas, as a means to improve the management of commonages.

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The Oireachtas Agriculture Committee launching the report this morning

The Committee met on seven occasions in recent months to consider the NPWS recommendations, which were cause of concern to many stakeholders. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, farmers’ representative bodies, Teagasc, conservation and interest groups and individual farmers fed into the debates.

Committee Chairman Andrew Doyle TD said: “Over the course of seven hearings, we heard that a number of concerns must be addressed in order to ensure that commonage lands remain or are returned to their optimum condition. Committee members were hugely impressed with the common-sense approach taken the Burren Life Programme has taken since its establishment. We heard that the programme has been a win-win situation for all stakeholders, due to the farmer-led approach and a simple scoring system that forms the basis of payments. This simple, practical and effective model is held in high regard EU wide and it therefore makes absolute sense to explore how similar programmes might be rolled out nationally.

“We recommend that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht consider the findings and recommendations of the report. The evidence and contributions from both the witnesses and the members offer a valuable insight to designing pragmatic proposals for a workable policy.”

A full copy of the report is available here.

This story was updated at 1.49pm with images and a link to the report online.

Images courtesy House of the Oireachtas Communications Unit