Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 31 January, 2007

Written Answers. - Overgrazing of Livestock.

Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the arrangement that has been arrived at in respect of the numbers of sheep to be retained by sheep farmers in the Buckagh Shramore area of Newport following discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1820/07]

Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has reached a conclusion on the number of sheep that sheep farmers in the Shramore and Buckagh areas of Newport, County Mayo, will be entitled to herd on the Neiphin Beg range; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that subsequent to agreements being reached with State agencies that particular numbers of sheep would be allowed to return to the hills, that sheep farmers have been informed that such arrangements no longer apply, and that farmers are being informed that they may only herd as little as 25 sheep in future; if his attention has further been drawn to the economic consequences and the disruption of livelihoods that this involves; if he has considered the implications of the breaking of commitments to farmers in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1960/07]

  Mr. Roche: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1781 and 1782 together.

Overgrazing of livestock has given rise to environmental problems, particularly loss of vegetation and soil erosion in commonages. In this regard, damage to the habitat of the Red Grouse in the Owenduff/Nephin Beg Complex Special Protection Area (SPA) in County Mayo, has [1136] been the subject of a continuing infringement case, under the Birds Directive, taken against Ireland by the EU Commission in the European Court of Justice. A Commission Reasoned Opinion of 18 October 2006 states that the Irish authorities must implement measures and demonstrate improvements in this area and in other commonages.

My Department, in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture and Food and the European Commission, has been working to resolve the issue of appropriate commonage management, which is made complex by the multiple shareholdings involved. This will be achieved through the amendment of existing REPS plans, or the preparation of an agri-environmental farm plan through a special National Parks and Wildlife Service scheme. General principles applicable to these amended plans have already been agreed with farming interests and are as follows:

All active farmers who wish to continue to farm with the SPA must be in an approved agri-environmental plan.

The full destocking as provided for in the commonage plans will be delivered.

There will be a closed period in commonages (and adjacent unfenced privately owned SPA) for five months (November to December and February 15th to May 15th) during which there will be no stock allowed go to the hills.

Farm planners have been issued with guidelines on appropriate stocking regimes based on the condition of the commonages to which farmers wish to return stock.

Compensation is payable in the NPWS scheme for destocked sheep (€27 per ewe) and offwintered sheep (€40 per ewe). Where their existing REPS plans do not provide for this destocking, NPWS will also pay €2000 per annum to each farmer.

The purpose of the initiatives is to ensure that ecological recovery takes place in damaged commonages in the area. The number of sheep that are allowed return to the commonage is based on the best available scientific advice. Farmers will be given a summer allocation of stock to the hill for seven months, which may be increased if returned for a period shorter than seven months.

I fully expect that the destocking measures negotiated locally and summarised above will be implemented and that the infringement proceedings taken by the European Commission can also be resolved on this basis.