The narrative that grazing livestock in hill areas is destructive to biodiversity and negatively impacts on nature on designated lands is not representative of the reality of sustainable hill management, according to the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).

IFA hill chair Caillín Conneely has defended farmers responsibly grazing the hills with cattle and sheep in response to what he called “divisive articles” arguing against such extensive farming practices.

The hill committee chair stated that farming is an important economic activity in areas of challenging land type and that any disruption to these farming activities would have social, as well as financial, consequences for rural communities in mountain areas.

“In areas where farmers are already struggling, any suggestion of reducing livestock in hill areas would have a serious impact on the livelihoods of farmers and lead to further economic and social decline in these areas,” Conneely commented.

“In other countries, livestock is being re-introduced to hill areas to manage vegetation. The reality is that farming and healthy habitats can co-exist on our hills,” he said.

Farmers vilified

Conneely stated that attempts to give a one-sided view of hill grazing were not constructive to bettering these habitat types.

He also commented that farmers understood the nature value of mountain ground and sought to protect these environmental areas.

“Divisive articles trying to vilify hill farmers are unhelpful and show no respect for farmers who farm very difficult terrain on our hills.

“Farmers fully respect the high ecological value of these uplands. The most sustainable way to deliver for biodiversity and wildlife is through controlled grazing by sheep and cattle on our hills,” he claimed.

Conneely added that grazing livestock could deliver other benefits for hills, such as lowering the risk of wildfires by removing vegetation that would act as fuel in the case of fires.

Scheme resources needed

The IFA also called for adequate resourcing of agri-environmental schemes, saying that the Agri-Environmental Climate Measure (AECM) proposed in the draft CAP strategic plan did not deliver high enough maximum payment rates for farmers to justify more environmental action.

Expected to open in the coming weeks, the new AECM has been proposed with payment ceilings of approximately €7,300 and €10,500 for the individual and co-operation entry routes respectively.