Dept confirms SAC cash recall
The Department of Agriculture is seeking to recover Special Area of Conservation (SAC) payments made to REPS farmers on lands adjoining some of the country's major rivers.
The Department has written to several REPS farmers informing them that the area along river banks which has been designated in plans as SACs was incorrect.
As a consequence, the Department is now looking to recover the difference between the standard REPS payment and the Natura premium for the affected lands. In some cases the amount being sought is for three and four years of REPS payments.
Carlow farm consultant Pat Minnock said several of these cases had recently come to light. In one instance the repayment being sought by the Department was almost €2,500.
The problems stem from changes to the area on river margins which were designated as SACs.
Initially, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) set the boundaries for river SACs at 30m or more from the river -- and also included floodplains.
Where farmers with river SACs applied for REPS, their REPS plans were drawn up on the basis of the 30m boundaries. The farmers concerned would then have qualified, on those areas, for the Natura rate of payment, which is higher than the basic rate.
However, in 2004, NPWS, in conjunction with the farm organisations, reduced the river margin to 2.5m -- except in cases where there was a qualifying habitat on lands bordering the river. The revised boundaries were published in 2005-06.
The issue of possible overpayments in REPS arises from the fact that once the margin where the restrictions applied was reduced, farmers should have amended their REPS plans to show the smaller area qualifying for the Natura rate of payment.
They were entitled to the Natura rate on the larger areas while the original 30m margins were still in place, and the Department has confirmed that there is no proposal to recover payments for that period.
The NPWS is responsible for notifying landowners of restrictions, and changes to restrictions, applying to their land because of Natura designations.
However, Department officials said planners would also have been aware of these developments. However, planners pointed out that as they were not involved in the annual renewal of REPS plans, the problems only came to light following Department inspections.
The Department said it was not possible to say how many REPS participants are affected.
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