Proposals to include a buffer area of 100m around active turbary areas on commonages will affect ACRES payments, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said.

These proposals, if applied, will affect the overall habitat score of commonages that will see reduced ACRES payments to farmers, INHFA vice-president John Joe Fitzgerald explained.

"On many commonages, active turf cutting is still a factor and this was an issue outlined last year prior to the habitat assessment (scoring) of these commonages," he stressed.

In discussions the INHFA had with Department of Agriculture staff last year, Fitzgerald outlined how an understanding was reached that allowed for the areas where turf was being cut to be separated from the overall area and scored separately.

'No reference to buffer zones'

This, he said, was also confirmed by Minister of State Pippa Hackett in a parliamentary reply to Deputy Rose Conway Walsh.

"Through these and subsequent discussions, there was no reference to buffer zones and neither do they feature as part of the terms and conditions of the scheme.

"So while the solution (scoring these areas separately) wasn’t ideal, it did protect the wider area of commonages where turf cutting was still ongoing," he said.

Many people, he added, who are cutting turf on commonages may not even be farmers, but as they have a legal turbary right, there is nothing any farmer on that commonage can do to stop them.

"With regard to the turbary plots, these are often spread across the commonage, so when a buffer zone of 100m is applied, there is a real danger that substantial parts of these commonages will get a negative habitat score, which will undermine the overall habitat score and payment rates," he said.

The INHFA has written to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and his staff on the matter and is currently awaiting a meeting.