Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

State service is 'failing' land owners claim hill farmers

Heather Humphreys. Picture: Tom Burke
Heather Humphreys. Picture: Tom Burke
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Hill farmers have accused the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) of failing landowners in their implementation of the Commonage Framework Plans (CFP) and the Natura Directives.

In an open letter to Minister Heather Humphreys at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRGA), hill farmers said the management of their holdings was being compromised by regulations based on outdated information.

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) claimed that the CFPs were supposed to be reviewed every five years but had not been assessed since they were introduced 16 years ago.

Under the GLAS programme commonage management plans (CMPs) must be drawn up by the farmer applicants or their planners.

However, INHFA said the outdated nature of the CFPs brought into question "the suitability of relying on old assessments when drafting any new management plans."

"This failure by the NPWS to re-assess these plans has denied farmers the opportunity to change the way they manage their commonages; particularly where there could have been insufficient stock due to the compulsory 30pc destocking introduced at the onset of the CFP," the INHFA said.

In answer to a series of questions from the Farming Independent, NPWS/DAHRRGA confirmed that it would only play an advisory role in the preparation of CMPs, as it was not "resourced to advise at the level of individual commonages."

However, DAHRRGA said it was its understanding that the Department of Agriculture intended that the CMPs would replace the CFPs as the base assessment criteria for commonages.

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Any such move would cause serious concern among farmers and agricultural consultants, a spokesman for the INHFA said.

"Neither farmers nor planners are ecological experts, and the responsibility for maintaining complex natural environments cannot be foisted on them," he said.

On the question of activities on designated lands that require consent - such as controlled burning or clearance of scrub or rough vegetation - the DAHRRGA statement insisted that the Department of Agriculture will undertake the screening or approval of these actions.

Meanwhile, the IFA hill committee chairman Pat Dunne has urged the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, to open up the process for planners to submit CFPs.

"IFA will not accept any delays in payments to the 7,000 commonage farmers who have applied for GLAS and whose commonage management plan must be submitted by the end of October. Currently, planners are assessing commonages but do not have the facility to make the online application for the plan," Mr Dunne said.

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