The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has stressed the urgent need for Government to engage with farmers on the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
It highlighted that Ireland is required to “outline our proposals to the European Commission on the implementation of this strategy by the end of this year” and said this “leaves very little time for engagement with farmers or landowners and their representative bodies”.
The INHFA made the call for engagement on the strategy ahead of this deadline in an attempt to avoid a similar scenario to the implementation of current designations, the special areas of conservation (SAC) and special protected areas (SPAs), which it says are causing “growing frustration amongst farmers”.
INHFA president Vincent Roddy says these current designations were “implemented without consultation and have undermined the income potential on these lands since first introduced in the late 1990s”.
The call from the INHFA coincides with its submission of a policy paper on the EU Biodiversity Strategy to Minister of State for heritage Malcom Noonan and other Oireachtas members.
Speaking on the strategy, and the association’s submission, Roddy said: “The concern now is that a similar strategy is being pursued in the EU Biodiversity Strategy that demands Ireland increase its area of land designated from 13% to 30%.”
In the INHFA policy paper, clarity is sought around this significant increase, with reference to the current designations, which the association maintains “has given a considerable level of grief to the landowners concerned with no obvious benefit”.
Roddy then called for clarity on the State’s intention to reach the 30% target, whether areas be pledged for the target without stakeholder agreement, the criteria which will be used to determine these new designations and the consultation process which will be put in place with landowners.
The INHFA president also queried the European Union proposals to unlock €20bn each year to support the delivery of the Biodiversity Strategy.
In its policy paper, the association asks how might this money be spent, who will be the benefactor and if the €20bn is separate to the 30% of the EU budget already dedicated to climate change, and, separately then, separate from CAP funds.
On direct supports for impacted farmers, the INHFA queried what “resource package” will be provided by the State to “assist landowners in working with the NPWS and other agencies to help protect and improve the habitat status of these [designated] sites”.
It asks if there will be a financial package put in place for landowners in recognition of the additional burden, reduced income and increased costs associated with the designation.
The policy paper also covered concerns around the proposal to introduce a ‘strictly protected designation’ across 10% of Ireland’s land base.
The INHFA said such a designation, based on the Commission’s working document on the Biodiversity Strategy, is defined as an area where “natural processes are therefore left undisturbed from human pressures and threats”.
This, Vincent Roddy insisted, “is rewilding by another name, with a primary target for this designation being our peatlands both blanket and raised bogs but also peatlands currently farmed including the 300,000ha of drained peatlands”.
This will also have a detrimental impact on thousands of farmers across the country, the INHFA president warned.