Following the recent launch of the EU’s Biodiversity strategy, the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have expressed their concern that the proposals outline could further undermine farm incomes.
Colm O’Donnell, President of the INHFA, stated that when the details are assessed in conjunction with CAP and the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, it becomes evident how vulnerable farmers are, especially those on hills or on lowland farming systems where peat soils dominate.
He highlighted that the findings of the EU’s Nature Fitness Check, which revealed the benefits of the Natura 2000 network of Ireland’s SAC and SPA designations to be valued at €200-€300 billion per year.
“With Ireland having just over 1% of Europe’s Natura 2000 land base, then the €2-3 billion valuation in Ireland would see this land making an annual contribution of almost €3,000/ha. However, for many farmer’s unfortunate enough to have this land, the maximum payment they can get is €79/ha through GLAS” stated O’Donnell.
He continued: “We see public bodies, NGO’s and others aiming to cash in on this land through increased administration and regulation that encroaches further on landowner’s property rights and new schemes that provides significant financial reward to everyone bar the farmer.”
He said this is no longer acceptable and it is now time for “all those who talk the talk on the need to support biodiversity to recognise and properly remunerate the landowners that are delivering on it.”
The Biodiversity strategy requires an annual budget of €20 million to deliver this plan and O’Donnell stated that at least 80% of this budget should be “ring-fenced” for farmers and landowners.
“It is vital to deliver a fair payment towards the burden imposed on landowners with designated lands. There will, of course, be a further payment required where management practices are required."
“We do have concerns that this €20 billion may only be fairytale money as no means of delivering this budget has yet been identified.”
Before any more land is designated to the Natura 2000 area, O’Donnell outlined some key measures that need to be implemented first:
- Address all of the concerns that are there with regard to the land currently designated;
- Increase any EU budget at a proportionate rate to the increase in the new land area;
- Ensure it is fair across all farming systems and land types. Intensive farming practices throughout the EU has in many areas seen a significant fall in biodiversity and in particular the farm bird population. This needs to be addressed where the collapse has happened;
- In Ireland, it should not be used as a means of targeting peatlands and carbon-rich soils.
The INHFA leader concluded by saying “how a fair and properly funded Biodiversity Strategy can have very positive benefits for all EU citizens. However, at farm gate level, past experience has taught us to be wary. We are concerned that this will be used to drive other agendas and provide a cash tree for the wolves now dressed in sheep’s clothing.”