The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has raised concerns about the impact of the proposed Nature Restoration Law on hill farming in Ireland. According to the INHFA president, Vincent Roddy, the actions of the law would “see an end to farming” for hill farmers. The proposed law would require European Union (EU) member states to take measures to restore habitat types listed in Annex 1 in areas not covered by those habitats. The main Annex 1 habitat in Ireland, according to the INHFA, is wet and dry heath, which covers most hills in the country and would affect hill farmers and their communities.
The Nature Restoration Law was proposed by the European Commission in June 2022, with the aim of restoring 20% of EU land and sea by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. It also includes binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species. The law would require the re-establishment of habitat features in areas where they no longer exist and the restoration of damaged areas to good condition. In assessing these areas for restoration, documented losses over at least the last 70 years must be accounted for.
Roddy believes that this provision allows member states to “go back as far as they deem necessary to establish the habitat type and condition”. He cites a report on the changes in heather moorland in upland Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years, which he says will provide the basis for the Irish State to act against existing landowners as they aim to re-establish upland areas to a pre-famine landscape.
The INHFA leader has raised concerns about the impact of the law on hill farmers, saying that the “agenda to re-wild and depopulate our uplands is well on course”. He believes that the effect the law would have on hill farmers is “something that has been lost on many, including our public representatives”. The INHFA president also raised the issue of rewetting being incentivised on a voluntary basis by the environment committee of the European Parliament. He said that there is no such proposal for farmers on Irish hills impacted by habitat re-establishment.
Roddy believes that the proposed law gives “a clear threat to existing support” through an article that details “the need to address subsidies that could negatively affect the achievement of the law’s objectives”. He questions whether farmers will be expected to cover the costs of re-establishment, as the law has legally binding targets. He also believes that the law presents a threat to existing farm subsidies, with proposals to phase out, redirect, or reform these subsidies.
Roddy has called on politicians to protect hill farmers, saying that 25 years ago, many hill farmers were “thrown under the bus” with the implementation of the SAC (Special Areas of Conservation) and SPA (Special Protection Areas) land designations. He believes that politicians must now step forward and do what they were elected to do, which is to protect those who put them in power.
The INHFA’s concerns highlight the need for a balanced approach to nature restoration that takes into account the needs of farmers and rural communities. While the restoration of habitats is important for biodiversity, it should not be achieved at the expense of farmers’ livelihoods. It is important for policymakers to engage with farmers and rural communities to ensure that their concerns are heard and taken into account in the development of nature restoration policies.