I travelled through Clare and Galway last week and up into Leitrim. The week before I was in Donegal. This is the heartland of the region where they say the nature restoration law passed this week is going to affect most.

From my experience in the last few days, it is not nature restoration that is going to be the problem in this region. It will, however, be the lack of animals and farmers in the countryside and rural Ireland.

EU officials and some politicians seem to think that farming is a short to medium term business that you can turn off and on.

They seem to think that if you splash the cash every now and again, you can make farmers sing the tune.

In the last week, an EU political agreement was reached on carbon farming, and the revised nature restoration law as I already alluded to was passed in the European Parliament.


Let’s discuss carbon first – establishing an EU-level certification framework for carbon removals is positive.

However, it would appear the framework fails to properly recognise the importance of grazing livestock that are crucial to a country like Ireland.

A countryside bereft of stock and farmers is not good for carbon or nature. Think about the leading schemes at play being promoted heavily by our Department at the moment: organics (less stock), ACRES (less stock), forestry (less stock) – all schemes that push for reducing livestock to a minimum on a set area of land.

All reward the farmer for very little, if any, positive environmental ambition.

The nitrates derogation row – a lever used by the EU to reduce livestock numbers on land – it’s sold as a direct water improvement tool, but it’s not.

An Irish farmer can just ratchet up yield per cow, and instead of extra cows in a grazing system, turn them into high yielding cows in a confinement system.

Don’t get me wrong – each of the four schemes mentioned above have merits in their own right. However, it is the lack of joined-up thinking and the combined impact on rural Ireland that really frustrates.

Positive change

The key with the carbon piece for Ireland is that it needs to push farmers to do the right thing, make positive change.

Less or no animals as described above is often the wrong thing to do. Soils that have livestock are healthier, more productive soils.

There is more life in these soils. ACRES doesn’t push or reward farmers enough to make additional environmental gains.

Most of the recent organic farmers are switching out of productive farming and are deciding to not put cows in calf or ewes in lamb and just draw down the area payments.

Forestry land buyers are now competing with livestock farmers, as peaty and hill lands are now deemed ineligible.

The nitrates debacle is just pushing farmers in the complete opposite direction than they need to go.

It pushes them away from grazing. So in our frenzied attempt to improve nature, improve carbon, improve biodiversity, and improve water quality, I believe we are just making another environmental problem and making a dwindling set of farmers even more angry.

Travel the roads from east Galway, into Leitrim and up into Donegal and tell me otherwise. Vast areas of wall-to-wall forestry, large land banks in need of livestock, land neglected and overgrown.

So what needs to happen? What farming badly needs is that the positive renewable investments that reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions are discounted from the emissions created by livestock.

Then farming becomes a viable business again. Then farming can positively impact nature, water quality and carbon stocks.

We have science showing soil health is better when livestock are present, when the dung is improving the biological capacity of the soil.

Less stock and confinement systems in areas that are badly in need of a business is not a good mix long term – socially, environmentally or financially.


One of the big issues facing the nature restoration law is how this law will be financed, and how farmers will be steered and supported to actively make long-term changes happen if it is short-term financing.

In parts of the west and northwest of this island, if you don’t invest in land, this great natural asset, it simply goes backwards. By all means, bring on nature restoration and proper ACRES initiatives that reward improved change.

By all means, bring on organics if it means more return for the farmer and the ecosystem around that farm.

By all means, improve water quality, but do it by tackling the real problems that are causing issues, not political fudges to suit another agenda.