Well-intentioned measures to deal with the impact or perceived impact of agriculture on the environment often carry a serious risk of unintended consequences such as reduced returns for farmers, depopulation of rural areas and land abandonment as the indigenous farm business becomes unviable. It is natural that farmers here in Mayo and the West to be concerned about the proposals to increase and deeper designations
Our experience of designations here in the West is marred by the lack of consultation and the failure to deliver on compensation promised in the Habitats Directive 1997. Moves to increase the areas of land designated as well as escalating the category of designation to ‘Strictly Protected’ has heightened concerns of farmers and rural dwellers.
Here in Mayo we have large tracts of land which are designated SAC, SPA and NHA. This has added an ever increasing burden of compliance on farmers and land owners while reducing their incomes and sucking the joy out of farming. Restricted planning means that farmers who could once sell a site to provide for their pension or get their children through college can no longer do so.
These attempts to remove all human activity from large swathes of land as well as the buffer zones of up to 15km being applied has severe consequences for rural areas.
Now more than ever we need to increase sustainable economic activity in rural communities. This means, investing in farming and food production, supporting the local fishing industry, encouraging new business start-ups, maximising the use of our natural resources such as seaweed for local job creation and the development of wind and wave energy projects.
Rural dwellers and farmers are acutely aware of the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis. They are more than willing to continue to play their part in addressing the crisis. The impact of flooding in particular has been acutely felt in coastal and rural communities. Yet we are starved of investment to combat coastal erosion while simple flood protection initiatives take years to deliver.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy sites the principle of equality, including ‘respect for the rights and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities’. Our past experiences in Rural Ireland tell a different story. This top-down dictat can no longer be tolerated. A genuine partnership approach with a fair distribution of the estimated €2 – 3 billion per year economic benefit is the only sustainable way to maximise the potential of the high biodiversity value of Rural areas.
Our carbon rich ecosystems such as peatlands, wetlands and environmentally sensitive grasslands cannot be exploited just to enable large industry and high emission polluters to continue business as usual. The economic and human rights of farmers, fishermen and rural dwellers must be upheld. “Protection of food security and farm incomes must be a central component of both government policy and EU policy in conjunction with delivery of environmental goals. Before committing to any extra layer of designation the Department of Agriculture and NPWS need to consult at length with land owners and farm organisations. These discussions need to deal with the measures required for the designations and above all the compensation available for loss of earnings for the farmers and landowners.
Speaking with John Morley on Midwest Radio