The European Commission’s proposals to impose legally binding nature restoration targets on EU member states must take the farmers and landowners affected by the changes into account when setting the restoration targets and finalising details of the nature law, an EU farm group has warned.

Under the proposed nature restoration law, Ireland would be legally obliged to protect and restore defined areas of vulnerable habitats, many parts of which are currently farmed, with the State’s restoration plans requiring the Commission’s approval.

Copa-Cogeca – an umbrella group of European farm organisations and agricultural co-operatives – emphasised the need to take farmers on board with restoration measures, which it said must be voluntary if progress is to be made on protecting habitats.

“All measures must be voluntary and with the full knowledge and agreement of the land owner and land manager,” Copa-Cogeca told the Irish Farmers Journal.

“Restoration will primarily take place on private land and can only be achieved with the full backing of those who own and whose livelihoods depend on the land,” the group said.

Setting targets

Another area Copa-Cogeca pointed towards as being critical to progressing nature restoration is in ensuring the Commission’s proposals set out realistic targets in the law and provide sufficient time for measures to be implemented.

“The targets of restoration must be achievable and realistic in order to actually accomplish the extraordinary work necessary for recreation,” the group’s statement went on.

“It is clear that the targets being set right now will be delayed due to a variety of reasons; financing, planning, implementation, etc.

“It is important to be ambitious, but it is likewise essential not to be fantasists in expecting results for arbitrary deadlines such as 2030,” the EU farm and co-op organisation argued.

Funding and resources

According to Copa-Cogeca, most of the funds needed to carry out the restoration measures, which will include rewetting drained peat soils, rewilding land and enlarging buffer strips, will come from the CAP budget.

The Irish Farmers Journal revealed last week that these measures would cost Ireland €134m.

“Restoration is expected to cost approximately €7bn annually, which must be drawn down by the member state’s restoration plans, through a variety of different funding mechanisms. The majority of this is expected to come from the CAP,” the statement added.

“Currently, the restoration measures inherent in the CAP strategic plans will not cover the targets for 2030.

“Financing for this is expected to come from the €14bn annual biodiversity spending under the multi-annual financial framework.

“We do not see this as feasible, or implementable, and, as a result, we need further more concrete financial planning from the Commission on this before we can move forward in restoration,” the group said.

Directive v law

Copa-Cogeca also stated that a directive would be preferable to a law, in that member states would be afforded more flexibility in implementing the proposed biodiversity rules.

It also cautioned that the powers laid out in the law’s draft documentation could allow the Commission to unilaterally amend the law’s nature restoration targets, as well as the indicators that will be used to assess member states’ progress towards the targets.

“A directive would better allow for the proper long-term planning for restoration measures to be tailored to fit the member state.

“Delegated acts allow the Commission to continuously grow their control over the member state’s ability to govern their own natural habitats.

“Freely amending and extending the indicators and habitats to which the law refers by committee we fear will cause the continuous growth of an already enormous piece of legislation,” the group claimed.