Full stakeholder engagement is critical in developing policy response to the EU biodiversity strategy, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said.
This call from the INHFA is on the back of the announcement by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcom Noonan that Ireland will submit proposals to the EU commission by the end of this year.
INHFA president Vincent Roddy outlined how the EU biodiversity strategy which was launched in May 2020 "will be of critical importance" to farming and rural Ireland and "it has to be got right".
The strategy outlines demands that if applied will see the area of land designated as special area of conservation (SAC) and special protected areas (SPA) increase from 13% to 30%.
"In addition to this the strategy also details the requirement for a new designation type called strictly protected on a minimum of 10% of our land area," Roddy added.
Roddy said that the SAC and SPA designations have impacted heavily on landowners, due mainly to the restrictions applied under the 38 Activities Requiring Consent (ARC’s).
"In addition to these restrictions the lack of engagement by the state, which has seen the majority of farmers still awaiting first correspondence and a management plan, some 25 years after their lands were designated, has actually undermined the habitat status of many of these designated sites," he said.
Any proposals to double the area designated SAC and SPA, when the capacity to support and manage them is clearly not there would be a flawed policy, he said.
"So too, would any proposal to introduce a new designation that is much more restrictive and would impact more severely,” added the INHFA Leader.
In a letter to Minister Noonan the INHFA called for “full engagement, especially with those that will be most impacted such as our farmers and local rural communities”.
It went on to call for a process similar to the one adopted by the Department of Agriculture when developing Ireland's CAP plan.
"A process similar to this the letter stated is vital, prior to the finalisation of any submission from Ireland on the EU biodiversity strategy," he said.
The INHFA president expressed concern that “this could be signed and sealed without adequate consultation with the key stakeholders while the state uses the Citizens Assembly that is currently deliberating on biodiversity as a pretense for public consultation.”