The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said that sheep are a “primary management tool” when it comes to managing uplands.

The farming group has “taken issue” with recent commentary by some environmental groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in relation to the role of sheep in upland farming.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy said that he was concerned at suggestions that sheep, which the group says are not native to Ireland, are unsuitable for upland areas and should be removed.

Roddy said that this “is a bridge too far and something that all farmers, especially those on our hills, will find deeply disturbing”.

He added that it is vital to recognise that hills and upland areas are “managed landscapes, with sheep being the primary management tool”.

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The INHFA president urged farmers to question those involved in drafting their new Agri-Environment Climate Measure (AECM) plans on their views on hill sheep farming to “ensure they are supportive of this age-long practice”.

“The INHFA will also be doing both with farm advisors and those involved in managing and delivering on the eight co-operation stream areas,” Roddy said.

The INHFA president said it is “vital that this thinking is challenged and refuted at every opportunity”.

“Otherwise, we will find ourselves in a similar situation to the ongoing view expressed on cattle and our suckler herd with regard to methane and the perceived damage they are doing to the environment,” Roddy added.

He cited the part played by cattle in maintaining the unique habitat of the Burren.

“In a similar way, sheep have a vital role in protecting our upland habitats which are managed landscapes and it would be totally reckless to make a similar mistake here,” Roddy concluded.