Government's alternative vision for Irish agriculture in support of the environment

1st February 2014
Press Release

Internal government documents obtained by An Taisce reveal alternative vision for Irish agriculture in support of the environment

Essential reading for anyone interested in farming, nature conservation and Ireland’s environment more generally.

In the media coverage surrounding the announcement of the Government’s draft Rural Development Programme (RDP) for 2014-2020, precious little attention has been given to alternative visions for using the very large pot of money available. Between direct payments, rural development and market supports, Ireland’s CAP package will amount to over €11 billion over this seven-year period.

Nevertheless, two internal submissions from the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to the Department of Agriculture in 2013 make a compelling case for a change in approach in how RDP funds are used, and how agri-environment schemes are designed in Ireland.

This debate is of extraordinary significance for the future of our countryside and environment. As such, the NPWS’s submissions - obtained by An Taisce under access to information rules - make essential reading for anyone interested in farming, nature conservation and Ireland’s environment more generally.

Based on a large body of evidence, in a May 2013 submission – “On CAP reform and biodiversity” - the NPWS highlights the shortcomings of previous RDPs. Despite an extraordinary €2.18 billion having been distributed to farmers in Ireland under environmental schemes between 1994 and 2006, these schemes, the NPWS records, have failed to deliver sufficient protection for Ireland’s biodiversity and have not ensured that ecosystems can support a vibrant agricultural sector in the long term.

In fact, agricultural ecosystems and the wider countryside are in a poor state environmentally. Of note in this regard is the situation in relation to Ireland’s 400+ Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), where “only 5% of the terrestrial habitats...were deemed to be in ‘favourable’ conservation status in 2007, with 51% deemed to be ‘unfavourable bad’.” As these are (in principle) the most strictly protected areas in Ireland, one can imagine the status of the wider countryside.

Given this situation in 2007, it is startling that there was a very large underspend by the Department of Agriculture of the budget allocated for SACs and Special Protection Areas (together "Natura 2000" sites) for the period 2007-2013. On the basis that there had been an overestimation of the demand for the schemes associated with these areas, in 2013 the Department of Agriculture cut the associated budget by more than 80%, from €528 million to €95 million, and reallocated the money elsewhere. Precisely where the money was allocated is unclear.

The NPWS expresses understandable frustration that its past submissions “have not particularly influenced the selection of measures for Natura lands,” despite the fact that the NPWS is the responsible body with direct expertise. Past schemes have suffered “due to poor design of prescriptions, inadequate targeting and baseline setting and little or no monitoring of results.”

To compound matters, the NPWS has had to step in to pay farmers to adapt their farming methods where the required interventions were not covered in agri-environment schemes. This is particularly odd given the NPWS’s relatively small budget and the enormous underspend by the Department of Agriculture of its own budget for Natura 2000 sites.

The new RDP presents an opportunity to break with this past in the interests of Ireland’s farming sector, environment and wider economy. However, the proposed new agri-environment scheme which is currently out for public consultation - GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) - does not currently envisage adequate funding for farmers who wish to undertake meaningful agri-environment measures. The €5,000 and €7,000 caps placed on GLAS and GLAS+ respectively pale in comparison to the costs required for meaningful conservation and restoration of habitats and species.

As the NPWS rightly notes, “Farmers should be supported financially through enhanced or incentivised payments to support the production of environmental goods and services and sustainable, innovative, biodiversity-friendly farming practices and farming enterprises.”

Jack McCarthy of An Taisce's Natural Environment Office commented, "There are success stories out there such as the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme. There should be many more such successes under the new RDP. The NPWS’s September 2013 submission makes some specific tentative recommendations in this regard. In general, rather than taking the form of broad-brush or ‘no-strings-attached’ supports, agri-environment payments should in future be targeted and should focus on measureable outcomes. Only then will these vast RDP funds serve the public interest."

ENDS

For further information, please call:

Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 2411995

Natural Environment Office, An Taisce Tel: +353 1 454 1786

James Nix, Policy Director, An Taisce Tel: +353 86 8394129

email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

www.antaisce.ie

Notes:

The May 2013 NPWS submission is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Byc1SOzeg2lPVldGa2xXdE5hQ0E/edit?usp=sharing. A summary of recommendations is on page 2. The September 2013 NPWS submission is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Byc1SOzeg2lPYmpPdGxzZ2t6bU0/edit?usp=sharing Submissions on the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 consultation paper are due by 19 February 2014: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/media/migration/ruralenvironment/ruraldevelopment/ruraldevelopmentprogramme2014-2020/InvitesubmissionsRDPConsultationPaper21012014.pdf

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