By Mark Robins
WEST Cork is celebrated for the wilder parts of its countryside.
That’s why so many people visit our area or choose to locate their businesses here.
But, as every farmer knows, the heavier ground, the older ground, and the hill ground is also a tougher place to make an income.
With eyes on the payment possibilities in the new Cap (starting January 2023), will the environmental funding work well for our parts? Will farmers here have access to the highest payments?
While the Department waits for Brussels to sign off its new spending programme, important details are emerging about its new ‘agri-environment climate measure’ (AECM).
Last week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Charlie Mc Conalogue announced his proposal for this €1.5bn flagship agri-environmental scheme, where 20,000 farmers can earn up €10,500.
These higher environmental payments will come under an approach called ‘co-operation projects’, the idea being these are in areas of particularly high-nature value. Farmers in these areas will get access to these highest payments.
Outside the areas there will still be environmental payments (under the general measure), but they will be at a lesser rate.
So, how does West Cork fare? Is it in or out of the higher payment zone? The good news is yes, the Department is proposing a West Cork & Kerry focus area.
The bad bit is that the zone doesn’t look quite right to many eyes.
Minister McConalogue published a map that suggests large parts of Beara and Sheep’s Head are in, but the Mizen misses out.
The islands are all in, but the Mizen hills, its bogs, heaths and the coastal strip all seem to be missing.
These are our nature-rich areas, and they’re not in sight apparently.
While it’s surely right that the new scheme prioritises the areas of high-nature value and those with significant carbon stores, but has it got its Mizen mapping right?
As an ecologist I know the map misses out on some very high environmental quality ground, and so the detail of the zoning looks questionable.
Right now, farmers on the Mizen in particular are going to miss out on the highest payments, and time is very short to call for the Department to adjust its zoning.
Its closing date for bids to establish and manage these co-operation projects is March 8th. Our TDs and others can surely ask – very quickly – for an adjustment to the map of the West Cork & Kerry focus area. This apparent ‘error’ should be corrected, urgently.
• Mark Robins lives on the Mizen and has worked with farmers and environmental schemes for many years.