An Taisce is challenging the reallocation of €400m in CAP funds, which it says is adversely affecting farmers and wildlife.

Strongly criticising the Department of Agriculture and the IFA, it says that the reallocation of funds by the Department of Agriculture has hit farmers and Ireland’s most treasured wildlife, including the hen harrier, says An Taisce.

It has written to DG Agriculture and DG Environment of the European Commission querying the legality of a reallocation of funds by the Department of Agriculture under Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. The Commission has confirmed that it is now investigating the matter.

The reallocated money was originally earmarked for spending on Ireland’s most important and most threatened wildlife areas – Natura 2000 sites.

It says that the original budget for distribution to farmers managing land within these protected areas was €528m.

However, in 2013 the Department of Agriculture announced that only €93m would be spent on Natura 2000 sites and that the massive balance of more than €400m would be reallocated elsewhere, An Taisce goes on to say.

“This represents a reallocation of greater than 80%.”

It says that the Department of Agriculture and the IFA appear to prefer CAP agri-environment money to be spread as widely (and hence thinly) as possible, even if this means no real targeting and poor environmental outcomes.

“The result is that funding is widely distributed via agri-environment schemes – which is good news for certain politicians and industry lobby groups but bad news for many communities and the environment.

“Diluting funds in this way has failed to stop Ireland’s spiralling biodiversity crisis, and it is disastrous for communities living in Natura 2000 sites, as many of them are farming on marginal land.”

It says that agri-environment payments are integral to the viability of farming in many areas. Without them many communities and the rich cultural and natural heritage they support will be lost forever.

“Such considerations appear lost on the Department of Agriculture and the IFA, which seem to favour widely distributed ‘few-strings-attached’ schemes whose outcomes are not effectively monitored or measured.”

It goes on to say that the Department of Agriculture needs to recognise that nature conservation is part of its remit too. “At the moment they seem to regard it as ‘another Department’s problem’.”