Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation), Member States were required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. Previously, my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.
From 2019, eligible areas were instead required to be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:
- Low temperature
- Excess soil moisture
- Limited soil drainage
- Unfavourable texture and stoniness
- Shallow rooting depth
- Poor chemical properties
- Steep slope
In tandem with the process to designate relevant lands under these biophysical criteria, Member States were also required to undertake a fine-tuning process. This process was required to identify areas where significant natural constraints were identified with reference to the above-listed biophysical criteria, but where objective criteria, such as arable land use or stocking density levels, would indicate that these constraints have been overcome.
Finally, Member States could also identify areas for inclusion as Areas of Specific Constraint where it is necessary for land management to be continued in order to conserve or improve the environment, to maintain the countryside, to preserve the tourist potential of the area, or to protect the coastline.
This three-phased process was a lengthy project, involving protracted technical engagements with the EU Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Joint Research Centre in the EU Commission. The technical process was completed in late 2018 and, at that time, further to a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders, my Department published full details in relation to the outcome of the review project.
The vast majority of land that was previously eligible under scheme remained eligible under the new approach. Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible were deemed not to be eligible under the new designation. Farmers impacted financially by this change were enititled to receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020. Over 2,000 townlands were designated as eligible under the new approach and were eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.
The outcome of the redesignation process was communicated by my Department via letter to farmers who had claimed on the land parcels reviewed under the redesignation process. The details of the new townlands that were determined to be eligible following the re-designation process, as well as the details of the townlands found not to be eligible, were published on my Department's website. A full listing off all eligible townlands under the scheme following the re-designation process was also published on my Department's website.
An independently chaired Appeals Committee was appointed to examine any requests received by my Department for a full review on the outcome of the re-designation process in relation to individual townlands. The work of this Appeals Committee has now been completed. Following the completion of the appeal process, farmers were advised in writing of the outcome of the review carried out by Committee. Where the appeal was unsuccessful and the townland remained ineligible, farmers were advised of their right to make a subsequent appeal to the Office of the Ombudsman.