Dáil Éireann - Volume 524 - 25 October, 2000
Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
109. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development his views on the lack of success of the REP scheme in halting the decline and quality of rural life and in  particular with regard to the destruction of habitats and the extinction and depletion of many forms of wildlife such as has been authenticated by Birdlife Ireland; and if he will give the scheme a new impetus to arrest the perceived decline. [23377/00]
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The REP scheme, which currently has 45,171 farmers actively participating, involves a range of measures which support sustainable agriculture by providing for nutrient management planning; protection and maintenance of watercourses; limits on use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides; protection of habitat, wildlife and landscape; and protection of features of historical and archaeological interest.
A comprehensive evaluation of the REP scheme was carried out in 1999. The evaluation looked at the agriculture, socio-economic and environment aspects of the scheme and it drew on material from my Department, Teagasc and organisations including the Heritage Council, Birdwatch Ireland and the farm bodies. Independent studies were commissioned on particular measures of the REP scheme under the auspices of Teagasc and the universities. Independent consultants were engaged to consider the various inputs to the evaluation process and finalise the report.
The evaluation report acknowledged that the REP scheme has increased awareness of environmentally sensitive practices in the farming community and has safeguarded important wildlife habitats.
The report finds that one of the scheme's measures protects the grassland ecology of the farm by reducing over-grazing and soil erosion while also preserving a diversity of flora as well as species such as lapwing and swallow which are dependent on extensive farm practices.
The report further acknowledges that other measures of the scheme deal specifically with habitats. The objective of one of these measures is to protect habitats from damage and recognises that Ireland is rich in hedgerows, wetlands and unfertilised meadows. These areas provide habitat for many common species of flora and fauna and also for species such as yellowhammer, bullfinch, skylark and reed bunting which were formerly abundant in farmland areas, but whose numbers have declined dramatically in much of western Europe.
The character of the Irish landscape owes much to hedgerows and stone walls and another measure promotes the maintenance of these features. This measure has successfully stopped the practice of poorly timed trimming and herbicide application previously conducted by tillage farmers.
The evaluation report was submitted to the European Commission in July 1999. The commission has acknowledged that the evaluation has shown that the REP scheme corresponds to the purposes of the EU regulations and demonstrates  that it enables the objectives of the regulations to be achieved.
The evaluation provided practical recommendations for future modifications and improvements to the REP scheme. The new REP scheme will include a higher payment to encourage smaller farmers to participate and also allow more intensive farmers to farm that part of their lands in target areas to the REPS specification. The importance of training for farmers and planners will be given increased emphasis and attendance at REPS training courses will be mandatory for all beneficiaries under the scheme. The requirements of REPS will also be communicated through public information meetings in the coming months.
I am confident that the important contribution which REPS makes to an improved environment will grow under the new scheme. The targeting, training and publicity arrangements which are being put in place will give a further impetus to REPS and increase the already significant participation levels.
Dáil Éireann 524 Written Answers. Rural Environment Protection Scheme.