The Environmental Pillar is dismayed with a recent proposed change in Ireland’s CAP Strategic plan by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to cut the space for nature requirement on Irish farms, from 5% to just 4% at a recent Common Agriculture Policy consultation meeting.
The Department also proposes to further weaken this ambition by including crops in these areas, making a mockery of the no backsliding principle of the CAP.
The Environmental Pillar calls on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Biodiversity and Land Use Pippa Hackett and Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan to reverse this cut and ramp up ambition to 10% space for nature on all farms in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
Oonagh Duggan, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar and member of the CAP Consultative Committee said:
“For over two years we have been calling on the Department to listen to the science and assign at least 10% space for nature on all farms with a focus on quality of habitats to give wildlife and other biodiversity a chance to survive. The Department has shown that it can and will increase ambition if it chooses. We call on the Department to set 5% of land as space for nature in GAEC 8, remove the proposal for crops in these important areas, increase ambition to 10% in ecoschemes and help farmers to improve the quality of habitats.
“Agriculture intensification is the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss in Ireland. People want more nature, not less and are sick of seeing ripped hedgerows and news of further declines in farmland birds like Curlew and Lapwing. The Dáil declared a biodiversity emergency in 2019 and now is the time to address the impacts of agriculture and ramp up ambition.”
In order for farmers to receive the basic payment, specific conditions and rules must be met. One of these is Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition 8 or space for nature [1,2]. Research funded by Teagasc shows that most Irish intensive beef, dairy and tillage farms already have an average of 5-7% space for nature of varying quality.
The Department has been proposing 5% for several months and most recently in the August public consultation document for the CAP interventions so this cut comes as a surprise and is unacceptable] as it shows little ambition to address the biodiversity crisis in Ireland .
The data shows that there’s been a 45% increase in the number of farmland birds added to the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland between 1998-2020 and the number of Red Listed farmland birds now stands at 16 .
These species were once common and widespread and are being wiped out due to the loss of, and degradation of habitat as a result of the intensification of agriculture and afforestation, and drainage.
Landscape scale nature restoration is needed to restore farmland biodiversity through strong and ambitious conditions, ecoschemes and Pillar 2 agri-environment schemes.
Notes The proposed change is to an important condition of the basic payment in the next CAP, Good Agriculture and Environmental Condition 8 (GAEC 8), which requires farmers to avoid production on specific areas for biodiversity on their farms- otherwise known as space for nature.  Information on Space for Nature:BirdWatch Ireland briefing: https://bit.ly/3DgmP9wArticle on Space for Nature and its importance: https://bit.ly/3A93pl7Article on EU minister’s political agreement in the CAP: https://bit.ly/3mpiLgx  Larkin et al(2019 Semi-natural habitats and Ecological Focus Areas on cereal, beef and dairy farms in Ireland and https://bit.ly/3ab23ff and available here https://bit.ly/2ZZrGxJ  CAP interventions public consultation document: https://bit.ly/3miQrfO  There are approximately 129,000 farmers for whom this condition will apply and for many this could be their sole action for biodiversity as only 50,000 farmers will choose the more targeted and results based agri-environment schemes in Pillar 2. It is critical that this already low percentage space for nature is increased and that the Department aims for much higher ambition for biodiversity.  In April 2021 BirdWatch Ireland published its paper on the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland: https://bit.ly/3iv7yKo  In May 2019 Dáil Éireann declared a biodiversity and climate emergency and Ireland signed up to the EU’s Green Deal endorsing the new EU Biodiversity Strategy which calls for 10% space for nature. Even Ireland’s weak Food Vision 2030 calls for 10% space for nature on all farms.In addition several reports have been published detailing worsening status for biodiversity, water quality and climate in Ireland with agriculture being the single biggest pressure and threat.