The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has called for designated special area of conservation (SAC) and special protected areas (SPA) to be adequately catered for in the upcoming CAP reform.

“On a per-hectare basis, these lands are delivering a higher financial benefit to the Irish economy than all other lands which is a fact that has been ignored for far too long,” INHFA president Colm O’Donnell said.

“These lands are delivering up to €3,000/ha/year, which makes them the most productive in the country.”

This assessment is based on the European Union's nature fitness check, which details how Europe’s Natura 2000 network is valued at between €200bn and €300bn per year.

The INHFA highlights that this valuation, when translated to Ireland, equates to between €2.6bn and €3.1bn per year.

Reward output

O’Donnell claims that farmers operating on these lands have been restricted through the 38 activities requiring consent for the past 20 years.

In discussing the EU nature fitness check, O’Donnell explained “how this puts a monetary value on the benefits farmers on these lands are delivering in terms of improved biodiversity, better water and air quality, while also helping to mitigate against climate change”.

“With the new CAP prioritising the need to deliver on these environmental concerns, it is essential that farmers who have had their farming activity and income curtailed through these restrictions are rewarded for the public good they provide in terms of environmental output.”

Opportunity to address

The INHFA claims that the current CAP “failed spectacularly” in delivering for farmers on designated lands.

“This must change and the new CAP provides us with the opportunity to address this.

"Parity of payment through a flat-rate Basic Income Support for Sustainability (BISS) for farmers with the highest environmental restrictions is essential,” O’Donnell continued.

“This, in addition to automatic entry to the eco scheme for all farmers impacted by the natura designations, is a minimum requirement under the Pillar I programme.”