Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin must engage with hill farmers and address their frustrations with increases in the numbers of hillwalkers disturbing their land, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said.
The INHFA has stated that its members have been reporting unprecedented numbers walking on the hills in recent weeks and also that a number of issues surrounding the conduct of some of these walkers has caused distress for the farmers who must deal with the consequences.
The walking of dogs on hills, deviation from prescribed walking paths and the littering of hills with rubbish were among the activities that have been causing the most difficulty for farmers, according to the INHFA.
These activities have, the INHFA has reported, had negative consequences on ecologically sensitive sites, including those with Natura 2000 designation.
The farm organisation made clear its support of the tourism industry and the walking of hills by those who conduct themselves responsibly while hillwalking.
“The goodwill provided by many farmers should not be taken for granted,” warned INHFA president Colm O’Donnell.
“This is why we are urging the tourism sector, our county councils and the minister to engage constructively with farmers in finding a workable solution,” he said.
The INHFA made it clear that many farmers would be content to allow hillwalkers to pass through their lands, as long as their conduct would not cause any harm or distress to the farmers involved.
The hill farming organisation also called for the wishes of those who may not want walkers on their land to be respected.
“There will be farmers and landowners that don’t want the public accessing their lands and this must be respected and enforced.
"However, there will be a lot of farmers that are amenable to hillwalkers, provided they are included and their issues of concern are addressed,” O’Donnell stated.
The association proposed measures that would help educate the public on the negative impact that poor adherence to standard hillwalking practices can have.
“There is a need for our county councils (who benefit indirectly through rates) to increase their engagement, with a possible starting point being an information campaign around a code of conduct for hillwalkers,” O'Donnell proposed.