MEP Luke Ming Flanagan.
MEP Luke Ming Flanagan has claimed that the complete ineptitude and lack of vision of government policy in relation to the management of the uplands was exposed last week by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, (INHFA) at a meeting with Commission officials from DG AGRI and DG ENVI which he facilitated.
The group highlighted the issues facing farmers in these areas setting out to the Commission the background of neglect and policy stagnation leading to two decades of mismanagement by successive administrations. This has resulted in farmers unable to draw down CAP payments due to land deemed “ineligible” due to under-grazing and conflicting advice on how to comply with regulation.
The current scenario stems from the decision of the Dept in the late nineties to impose a blanket destocking on all commonages as a result of overgrazing on some mountain areas. This was a blunt instrument where a targeted response was required as stock were removed from mountains where no problem existed. This was followed up by the implementation of “Commonage Framework Plans” which set maximum stocking rates for these areas.
This was compounded by the failure to honour and follow up on commitments given at the time to review and revise stocking rates to reflect the changing status of the vegetation. As a result of the inaction by the Dept mountain lands have been restricted with completely inappropriate stocking rates to control the vegetation.
Commenting on this MEP Flanagan said, "It is astonishing that policies that were put in place to alleviate over-grazing which farmers complied with are now being used to penalise farmers for under-grazing. This view was shared by the Commission officials who viewed the destocking as a short term measure, adding that it would only be logical that stocking rates would be reviewed to reflect the changing vegetation.
"This policy vacuum and lack of leadership has continued into the implementation of the GLAS scheme where the Dept has once again abdicated its responsibilities to upland farmers. The landowners put forward proposals where the Dept would commission “master plans” for overall commonage areas which would set out what is required of farmers to comply with regulation. These were to be drafted by ecologists with experience in this area, planners would then work of this in drawing up individual plans for their client farmers, working towards a common goal. The Dept rejected this, washing their hands of the problem they created insisting that farmers shoulder all the responsibility for drafting plans and the environmental outcomes of these.
"The great paradox of this," concluded MEP Flanagan, "is that while one set of farmers were being penalised for not complying with “greening” which requires then to devote 5% of their land to ecological focus areas another sector is being put to the wall for having to many ecological areas."
He called on the Government to work with the landowners to implement a long term strategy to maximise the potential of these environmentally sensitive areas.