Hill farmers' joy as Coveney relaxes sheep fencing rules
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has moved to relax rules that would force hill and mountain farmers to erect thousands of kilometres of sheep fencing on some of Ireland's most picturesque mountains.
Department of Agriculture officials had been trying to stamp out the phenomenon of intensive lowland farmers renting so-called 'map acres' to comply with the Nitrates Directive by insisting that all non-commonage mountain and hill land should be enclosed by stock-proof fencing.
The problem even saw officials searching for Holstein cattle supposedly grazing 560m above sea level.
The Department's insistence on fencing, highlighted in the Farming Independent last October, was resulting in what the United Farmers Association described as a "a massive and unsustainable expense to hill and mountain farmers".
The irate hill farmers blamed their lowland colleagues for the potential loss of SFP and DAS payments, worth up to €10,000 on a 40ha hill, unless they fenced the land.
However, Minister Coveney has now moved to reassure traditional upland farmers that fencing may not be needed to collect their payments if they own land that was traditionally unfenced.
In response to a parliamentary question posed by Fianna Fáil's Seanad spokesman on agriculture Brian ó Domhnaill, the minister said hill land, where it was continued to be farmed in the traditional manner by hill farmers, would not need to be fenced as long as other general compliance measures were met.