'Some farmers feel over-run by the ever increasing number walkers on their hills'
Call for thriving tourism industry needs to address Hill farmer concerns
Farmers that work Ireland's spawling upland areas have raised concerns in relation to land access and issues around liability.
In a meeting with Minister Michael Ring the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association said pointed to a substantial increase in the numbers accessing our hills for recreational purposes which have increased from 168,000 in 2003 to almost 2.35 million in 2018.
National Vice President Henry O’Donnell said that in recognising the considerable bonus this provides for the local and national economy, there is he stated “a strong feeling amongst farmers that they are left out once again with some of the opinion that they are starting to feel over-run by the ever increasing number of people walking their hills.”
"We appreciate how a thriving tourism industry can benefit local communities and the country as a whole."
However, he said there also needs to be the realisation that these hills are privately owned and seen by those landowners as business and farms with the primary objective being the production and maintenance of livestock.
In recent times he added “public access to these hills has adversely impacted on farmers through issues such as sheep worrying by dogs, increased pollution and litter, gorse fires leading to lands been made ineligible for farm payments, gates not been closed and fences broken allowing stock onto public roads and the concern of possible claims against them from walkers that may have got injured.”
For too long he said “farmer concerns have been ignored and while we acknowledge attempts being made by the Minister in addressing the issue of liability (which is being piloted in two areas) this issue and others outlined needs to be prioritised for all hill farmers.
“How a tourism industry that ignores the property rights and concerns of our farmers is not sustainable which is why we need full engagement in addressing these concerns and finding a way to include farmers and reward them for the public goodwill they are providing.”
The comments come as Minster Ring has said that his Department has been working to develop a scheme to indemnify private landowners over use of their lands for recreational purposes, and has been in discussion with the State Claims Agency and the Attorney General’s Office to see how this can be brought about.
Last May, farmers welcomed the decision by the Court of Appeal to reject a claim that a public right of way existed over a landowner’s property in Co. Wicklow.
IFA Hill Committee Chairman Flor McCarthy said this is an important decision that protects the rights of landowners and it confirms that access to land can only be given by the landowner, unless a public right of way already exists.
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