The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, is currently assessing the effect of turf cutting on commonages on farmer payments under the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES). Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for agriculture and rural development, Claire Kerrane, and her party colleague Sorca Clarke, raised the issue through parliamentary questions to the minister this week. Deputy Kerrane called on Charlie McConalogue to clarify whether farmers would be able to cut turf on their commonage lands if they are participating in ACRES. Meanwhile, Deputy Clarke asked what percentage of commonage can be active turbary without negatively affecting the payment available to farmers under the €1.5 billion agri-environmental scheme.
In response, Minister Charlie McConalogue said that commonage falls under two approaches within the ACRES scheme: ACRES Co-operation Project (CP) and ACRES General. “Applicants with commonage received priority entry into ACRES General under Tier 1 to incentivise farmers to help ensure that habitats on such lands are maintained or restored to good condition through appropriate management practices,” he said. Under ACRES, there is a set payment per hectare for commonages of 10ha or less. There is a results-based payment when it comes to commonages greater than 10ha. This means the payment rate “is determined by the quality of habitat using a range of criteria assessing the ecological and hydrological integrity of the commonage and various damaging activities”.
On commonage over 10ha, the farmer must commit to having the land scored by an approved assessor. The payment will be based on the score awarded. Minister McConalogue said he is “conscious that active turf-cutting could have a disproportionate impact on the scores of commonages”. “I am currently examining how to mitigate the negative impact of smaller severely damaged areas on the wider commonage parcel,” he said. The minister said that he is “reflecting on the issue” while “having regard to the environmental ambition of the scheme and the rights of commonage shareholders”.
Turf cutting has been a contentious issue in Ireland for many years, with environmentalists and farmers often at odds over the practice. The cutting of turf, or peat, has been a traditional way of heating homes and cooking food in rural Ireland for centuries. However, environmentalists argue that the practice is damaging to the environment, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and destroying habitats.
The ACRES scheme was introduced to incentivize farmers to adopt more environmentally friendly practices and to help restore damaged habitats. Commonages are areas of land that are owned by multiple shareholders, and they are often used for grazing animals. The new scheme aims to encourage farmers to manage these lands in a way that is beneficial to the environment and to their own livelihoods.
The issue of turf cutting on commonages has been a contentious one, with many farmers arguing that they have a right to continue the practice. However, environmentalists argue that the practice is damaging to the environment and that it should be phased out. The ACRES scheme aims to strike a balance between these two viewpoints, incentivizing farmers to adopt more environmentally friendly practices while also respecting their traditional ways of life.
The issue of turf cutting on commonages is likely to remain a contentious one in Ireland for many years to come. However, the ACRES scheme represents a step forward in finding a solution that is acceptable to both farmers and environmentalists. As Minister McConalogue continues to examine the impact of turf cutting on commonages, it is hoped that a solution can be found that is both environmentally sustainable and economically viable for farmers.