Live export proposals stop land bridge

Proposals from the UK government to ban the live export of farm animals in England and Wales could close a transport route from NI to continental Europe.

While the plans do not directly apply to NI, they aim to stop all livestock transiting through England and Wales for fattening or slaughter elsewhere. It would effectively close the so-called “land bridge” route from Ireland, through Britain and on to continental Europe.

DAERA chief vet Robert Huey said that dairy bull calves moving from Ireland to Europe were traditionally shipped direct and did not pass through Britain.

However, he described the movement of livestock within the UK and Ireland as “complicated”.

“That’s why a lot more discussion is needed. An answer needs to be found that satisfies all parties,” Huey said.

Cereal seed application for NI progresses

An application to the EU which would allow seeds to move from Britain to NI after the end of the Brexit transition period is progressing, a senior DAERA official has said.

The UK has applied to the EU to be granted “third country equivalence” for cereal, vegetable and fibre crop seeds.

With NI set to follow certain EU rules after Brexit, these seeds will not be able to move from Britain into NI unless the application is approved by the EU.

“I understand progress is being made on it, although it is highly unlikely that the equivalence application will be determined before the end of December,” said Tommy McNamara from DAERA.

Speaking to MLAs last week, he said that seeds which are “on the market” in Britain before the end of the year can still be brought into NI in 2021, regardless of the EU approving the third country application.

A similar application for potatoes has also been submitted to the EU, but grass seed does not need any approval and can still move from Britain to NI in 2021.

NI Water to inspect hundreds of farms

Farms are being inspected by NI Water for compliance with regulations on the contamination of public water.

According to the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), farms that have a dual supply from public mains and a private borehole are more likely to be inspected.

Speaking to members during a webinar on Tuesday, UFU deputy president David Brown said that his best estimate was that “a few hundred” farms in NI would be subject to the pre-arranged checks.

John Mulgrave from NI Water said that drinkers connected to mains water must have suitable backflow protection.

“Due to the potential for back syphonage of contaminants through an attached hose, hose union taps pose a huge risk. An air gap is the only method of protection that is accepted,” he said.

DAERA facilities ready for checks

Temporary facilities at NI ports will be ready to allow DAERA staff to do physical checks on goods arriving from Britain from 1 January 2021, chief vet Robert Huey has confirmed.

Outlining the situation at a DAERA Brexit event on Tuesday, Huey said that some existing buildings have been retrofitted, and temporary structures erected, at Belfast, Larne, Warrenpoint and Lisahally ports. However, new permanent structures will not be completed until later in 2021.

“Interim facilities have been built rapidly. We are confident it will all be ready by 1 January – there is nothing to worry about now” said Huey.

However, he acknowledged that there is a significant increase in red tape coming for those who move animal and plant products from Britain to NI. Importers will have to pre-notify a consignment, ensure they have official documents (export health certs) and be prepared for potential checks. “None of this is easy – I’m not going to pretend there isn’t added bureaucracy here,” said Huey.

DAERA plan to re-wet peatlands

Proposals to re-wet bogland in NI are being drawn up by DAERA officials, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

“A peatland strategy for NI is currently being developed which will provide a framework for conserving our intact semi-natural peatlands and restoring degraded semi-natural peatlands,” he said.

In response to a written question from People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, Minster Poots said that the strategy would aim to increase carbon capture and biodiversity in peatlands. A public consultation on the proposals is to be launched next year.