Upland farm management, particularly, the natural soakage of uplands, boglands and heaths will play an essential role in future flood management, according to Colm O’Donnell, Policy Spokesperson of the INHFA.

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has called on the Department of Agriculture to carefully consider the Terms and Conditions of the Basic Payment Scheme for 2016 in light of the recent flooding.

“It is essential that the Department reconsiders its approach to land eligibility to reflect the fact that areas of scrub, dense furze and other ecological features that they previously considered ineligible for payment but does provide natural soakage reducing the flow of water to areas at risk of flooding downstream,” he said.

By declaring areas of dense natural growth ineligible under the Basic Payment Scheme, the natural progression for farmers is to remove such ecological features from their lands, according to the INHFA.

The INHFA acknowledges that due to its previous lobbying, the Department has made scattered scrub eligible, but only if it constitutes less than 10% of the overall parcel size.

“More needs to be done on land eligibility and within the available mechanisms in Pillar II (Rural Development) to improve the situation in the Irish uplands.”

The European Commission’s recent statement was very significant and called on the Irish State to work with the Nature Directives and come up with a more holistic approach to flood management.

According to the INFHA, this should include assistance to farmers in upland areas to develop native woodlands and other conservation areas.

These will have the effect of retaining nutrients in the soil and slowing the flow of water from the hills into the rivers and then towards the built-up areas downstream, it stated.

“While other remedial works on rivers may assist downstream, it is essential that farmers, particularly on uplands and other high nature value (HNV) farmland are provided with assistance to ensure their lands are in a suitable condition to alleviate excessive water in future.

“There is particular scope on Natura 2000 sites.”

Proper farm management and nature conservation can work hand in hand but the state bodies need to work together with the farmers to achieve a solution to these problems.