The Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has defended the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) scoring procedures used for commonages from which turf is still being actively harvested.

Serious concerns have been expressed by farmers, following the imposition of a 100m buffer zone around active turf banks for the purposes of scoring commonages under the ACRES co-operation stream.

The farm organisations claim that the application of the buffer zones increases 10-fold the area impacted by turf-cutting activity.

The scientific basis for introducing a 100m buffer has also been questioned by commonage farmers and their representative bodies.

However, Minister McConalogue has insisted that ACRES payments would not be adversely impacted in most cases by the application of buffer zones.

“The buffer area was applied to take account of the negative impact of active turbary on adjacent peatland hydrology.

“Without this zone, the environmental integrity of the scheme, and therefore the justification for substantial EU and national funding, would be undermined,” Minister McConalogue maintained.

“My Department’s judgment is that this system will not have a significant overall impact on the payments received by commonage shareholders,” he said in reply to a written question from Sinn Féin’s Claire Kerrane.

But the minister conceded that there may be “exceptions” where farmers’ payments under ACRES could be harder hit, since the Department was only “processing data” at this point.

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) said it would continue to engage with the Department of Agriculture with a view to getting the buffer zone requirements amended or removed.

“Farmers cannot be penalised for the actions of someone else; particularly when those actions [cutting turf] are not in any way illegal,” INHFA president Vincent Roddy said.

Stephen Joyce, Tooreen, Moyard, Co Galway

Galway farmer Stephen Joyce questioned the science behind the 100m buffer zone and asked if it was fair that landowners could now be penalised because their bogs included turbary rights that were in existence for generations.

Stephen Joyce.

“I suppose the biggest question is, where did the 100m come from? It was agreed last year that the turbary plots would be taken out of the commonage area [for ACRES] but the buffer zone came out of the blue,” Joyce said.

“And why 100m? The setback from watercourses for spraying is generally 2.5m, so why 100m for turf banks?” he asked.


He maintained that the implications of this size of a buffer zone was that the total area impacted was more than 10 times the size of the actual turf bank.

“If you have a bank of 100m by 40m – and that’s not a big plot for turf – that comes to 0.4ha. But when you add in the 100m right around that bank, the area covered goes to 4.6ha,” he explained.

“Does that sound fair to you?” Joyce asked.

“The 100m absolutely baffles me,” he said.

Seanie Boyle, Falcarragh, Co Donegal

“In our own area of northwest Donegal, the 100m buffer could have a big bearing,” said Falcarragh farmer Seanie Boyle.

He said the nature of bog plots in that part of Donegal is that they are generally scattered across the mountain, rather than confined to a specific area.

Seanie Boyle, Falcarragh, Co Donegal. \ Clive Wasson

Boyle predicted that a quarter to a third of a commonage could be impacted by turbary rights “if the 100m buffer is applied”.

“If there were 10 or 20 [turf] plots, you could be taking a lot of land out of a commonage,” he said.

Boyle bemoaned the lack of clarity from the Department on the issue.

“We’re completely in the dark on how this is going to pan out,” he said.

Michael Holmes, Tiernaur, Newport, Co Mayo

West Mayo farmer Michael Holmes urged the farm organisations to fight the buffer zones proposal “tooth and nail”.

“Turbary plots were traditionally 1ac plots, or around 70m by 70m. If you add on the 100m buffer zone, then you take the size of the plot to 13ac or 14ac. “That’s a big chunk of ground,” he maintained.

From left: Darren Carty, Francis Brennan Michael Holmes and Declan Conway at the Castlecourt Hotel, Westport. \ Conor McKeown

“If you have a few of these on a commonage, then they will have to impact the overall plan for the commonage and even individual farm plans,” Holmes claimed.

“It seems to me that there wasn’t a whole lot of thought put into this proposal.”