Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Ceisteanna (514)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

514. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to include a requirement that existing hedgerows are maintained and improved as part of dairy expansion projects that receive funding from his Department; and the information supplied to farmers regarding the importance of hedgerows via direct payments under pillar I of CAP. [37600/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the standards for Good Agricultural & Environmental Condition (GAEC) of Cross Compliance, hedgerows (including gappy hedges), trees in a line and drains/ditches are designated as Landscape Features. This designation means that all areas under these features are eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and other area-based schemes. Regardless of the purpose of funding from my Department, landscape features are protected under the requirements of GAEC meaning that, in general, they cannot be removed, damaged or interfered with.

 Where, in exceptional circumstances, it is necessary to remove a hedgerow, remove a line of trees or fill in a drain for good reasons such as farmyard expansion, farmers may do so provided a new hedgerow, new line of trees or drain of equal length is planted/dug in advance of the removal of the old hedgerow, line of trees or drain on the holding. Farmers can only replace like-with-like, for example you cannot replace a length of hedgerow with a line of trees. When replacing a hedgerow, the species used must be traditional to the area and the replacement hedge cannot be for amenity purposes, e.g. around a farmyard or driveway. In the case of land designated as SAC or SPA, hedgerows or drains cannot be removed without the prior approval of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Hedgerows must be maintained and encroachment into a field must be avoided.

To ensure compliance with these requirements, the Department uses a combination of ortho photography/satellite imagery and ground checks to confirm the presence and maintenance of landscape features. If an applicant is found to be in breach of the requirements, a sanction may apply under all area-based schemes and, in all cases, the removed landscaped feature must be reinstated.

Field boundaries such as hedgerows, stone walls and clay banks are also afforded protection under the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations (EIA) S.I. 456 of 2011 (as amended by S.I. No. 142 of 2013 and S.I. No. 407 of 2017).

The EIA Regulations set down clear requirements in respect of screening and approval of certain works on farms. These Regulations apply to three different types of activities;

- Restructuring of rural land holdings i.e. removal of field boundaries

- Commencing to use uncultivated land or semi natural areas for intensive agriculture

- Land drainage works on land used for agriculture

Should a farmer intend to undertake any of these activities, screening and approval by my Department may be required under the EIA Regulations. An EIA Guidance document is available on my Department’s website.

Farmers are made aware of their responsibilities regarding Landscape Features and other Cross Compliance requirements through a number of channels. My Department’s website provides information on all aspects of Cross Compliance and inspections. In 2016, an ‘Explanatory Handbook for Cross Compliance Requirements’ was issued to all herd owners.

Staff of my Department, in conjunction with Teagasc, held a series of Cross Compliance events throughout the country during 2018 and 2019. These events afforded Department staff an opportunity to engage directly with farmers and assist them in furthering their knowledge and understanding of the Cross Compliance requirements including those surrounding hedgerows.