Promise to co-operate on habitat designation

CO-OPERATION, not confrontation, will be the Department of the Environment’s approach to farmers when designating further sites for habitat protection.

Ireland is still required by the EU authorities to designate sites for certain species, in particular the hen harrier and chough, according to the Department.

Designations for chough will not go beyond four coastal areas and inland cliff areas of Kerry and west Cork, and one in Donegal.

The extent of the harrier designation cannot be finalised until information on the current extent of forest planting is available from the Forest Service. For species such as merlin and kingfisher, no new land or waters are likely to be designated. For species such as red-throated diver and corncrake, designation is likely to be five areas for each, of less than 100 hectares. Upcoming designations of five additional areas for Greenland white-fronted goose will have minimal impact on landowners, according to the Department.

Thirty-five Special Protection Areas required, under threat of European Court proceedings, are described as “almost all non-controversial wetland and seabird sites”.

There will be minor extensions of existing Special Areas of Conservation, in particular the inclusion of further stretches of smaller rivers where salmon spawn.

Of more concern to landowners will be plans to statutorily designate biological and ecological sites as Natural Heritage Areas.

They will be chosen mostly from the 630 proposed NHAs, covering approximately 100,000 hectares, details of which were published on a non-statutory basis in 1995.

The Geological Survey of Ireland is preparing a list of geological or geomorphological sites to be proposed to the Department of the Environment for designation as Natural Heritage Areas.

These are unlikely to have implications for agricultural land use.

The Department has told farmer organisations that they will notify individual farmers or landowners in writing, fully explaining the scientific reasons for designation of their lands, and the prescribed farming conditions and restrictions that will apply.

Follow-up visits will be arranged where requested, for more detailed discussion.

“Designated areas can only be successfully conserved with the active involvement of their owners”, said the Department in a press statement.

The Department and the farm organisations are developing a Code of Practice for contact with landowners.

A farmer or landowner may appeal a designation with the local officer on the ground, or with the Designated Areas Appeals Advisory Board.

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