THOUSANDS OF acres of uplands in Co Donegal, Co Kerry and Co Wicklow have been fenced by farmers in compliance with area aid requirements imposed by the Department of Agriculture.
That is according to campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment, which claims the fences block walking trails, and impede access to beaches, hills, lakes and rivers.
The group has written to Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney expressing “urgent and specific concern” at the fencing requirements.
According to the group, department officials have been advising farmers that under the Single Area Payments Scheme and the Rural Environmental Protection schemes 3 and 4, they must erect permanent fencing of their lands to qualify.
The group told Mr Coveney the fencing included lands habitually open to the public for “recreational purposes or as a means of access to seashore, mountain, lake shore, riverbank or other place of natural beauty or recreational utility”.
The group told The Irish Times such fencing also required planning permission. It noted that local authorities in Mayo, Galway and south Dublin had written the requirement for planning permission for such fencing into their development plans. The group said a verbal check with Donegal County Council had revealed “no such planning applications have been received in the last five years”, despite the fact that hundreds of acres there had been fenced off.
The group also said it understood the situation had been exacerbated by the need for farmers to spread additional slurry, which was now being collected through new facilities provided under the Farm Improvement Scheme, 2007-2010.
It was necessary to spread this slurry in a wide area to avoid exceeding limits under the nitrates regulations for nutrient levels on land. Slatted houses, slurry storage tanks, and mobile or specialised slurry spreading equipment were all projects that ranked in the top 10 farm investment structures by grant payments under that scheme.
“Remote parcels of lands are being leased for these purposes from, for example, the State forestry board Coillte Teoranta,” said a spokesman.