A commitment given by Minister for Rural Affairs, Michael Ring to extend the number of walks covered by The Walks Scheme has been welcomed by IFA National Hill Committee Chairman Flor McCarthy.
The scheme involves landholders as key participants in the provision of high quality walking trails, by contracting them to undertake maintenance work on sections of National Way Marked Ways and other priority walks that traverse their lands.
The landholders receive payments which average €1,100 for maintenance work undertaken, in line with agreed work plans. The scheme currently covers 39 trails, with payments made to approximately 1,900 landholders to maintain those trails.
At a meeting of Comhairle na Tuaithe the recreational consultative body, attended by the Minister recently, Flor McCarthy said that the current Walks Scheme, which has been in existence for nearly 10 years, has proved very successful in developing tourism in peripheral and other rural areas throughout the country.
He said the extension of the scheme is now necessary as there are many more walks that could be added to the 40 already in the scheme.
The IFA hill farmer leader outlined that 2,000 farmers benefit from the scheme, worth nearly €2m and is a significant boost to farm income for those farmers participating.
At the Comhaile na Tuaithe meeting it was pointed out that recreational tourism has huge potential and it is important that the necessary infrastructure is further developed. In many of the walks, the use of the Rural Social Scheme has proved crucial, he said.
Flor McCarthy also welcomed the commitment given by the Minister to address insurance issues to protect all landowners whether they are in the Walks Scheme or not.
Minister Michael Ring recently he intends to initiate a comprehensive review of the scheme’s operation this year in order to determine how best to expand the scheme and maximise the impact of the resources available.
This review will inform any decisions to be made regarding new walks to be included in the scheme.
He said as significant consultation will be required with both landholders and other stakeholders, it is unlikely that any increase in the number of walks covered by the scheme will be implemented until late 2018 or early 2019.
The proposal to increase ANC payment rates must be made to the EU Commission in Brussels shortly so that this year’s scheme contains the new payment system, according to IFA Rural Development Committee Chairman Joe Brady.