Conservation Grazing Legislation

Important Legislation that should be considered when planning for conservation grazing

There are two main government bodies that are involved in ensuring that EU directives and regulations relating to agriculture and the environment are adhered to. Both have regulatory frameworks in place that should be consulted and adhered to when placing livestock on land for conservation grazing. These two main bodies are:

  • National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)
  • Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM)

NPWS

NPWS have legislative powers to protect Natura 2000 sites that have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protection Areas (SPA) through a framework of activities that require consent (ARCs). These activities can range from livestock grazing to reclamation work and the ARCs appropriate to each site is dependent on the habitat or species the site is protected for.

It is worth noting that an ARC is not a prohibited activity but one that requires consent before the activity can be carried out. The ARC consent requirement ensures that the necessary environmental assessments have been made before starting a potentially harmful activity.

It is however an offence to carry out an ARC without prior consent.

Examples of ARCs that might affect grazing livestock include:

  • Grazing livestock treated within the previous week with a pesticide which leaves a persistent residue in the dung requires can require an ARC to protect habitats such as sand dunes and machair.
  • Supplementary feeding of livestock requires can require an ARC to protect habitats such as fens, mires and sand dunes.
  • Introduction of stock to formally un-grazed areas requires can require an ARC to protect species such as otter, marsh fritillary or the Kerry slug.

To apply for an ARC the land manager is required to complete an application form and send it to the local or regional NPWS offices, the NPWS will then contact the land manager to discuss the application.

A list of ARCs for various habitats and species is available on the NPWS website at https://www.npws.ie/farmers-and-landowners/notifiable-actions/listed-habitats-and-species.

DAFM

ensuring directives relating to the environment, climate change, good agricultural condition of land, public health, animal and plant health, and animal welfare are adhered to through various schemes and legislation. A framework of statutory rules, requirements and standards has been designed to integrate the EU directives, so farmers and land managers understand what is required of them.

All farmers and land managers whether they are receiving CAP support or not are obliged to keep land in good agricultural and environmental condition, by complying with:

  • Thirteen Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs)
SMR1 Protection of Water against pollution caused by nitrates
SMR2 Conservation of Wild Birds
SMR3 Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Flora and Fauna
SMR4 Food and Feed Hygiene
SMR5 Restrictions on the use of Substances having Hormonal action
SMR6 Pig Identification and Registration
SMR7 Cattle Identification and Registration
SMR8 Sheep and Goat Identification and Registration
SMR9 Prevention and Control of Certain Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies
SMR10 Plant Protection Products (Pesticides)
SMR11 Welfare of Calves
SMR12 Welfare of Pigs
SMR13 Welfare of Farm Animals

Farmers and land managers who are receiving CAP support are also obliged to adhere to the following:

  • Seven Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition Standards (GAEC)
GAEC1 Establishment of Buffer Strips along Watercourses
GAEC2 Where use of Water Irrigation is subject to authorisation compliance with authorisation procedures
GAEC3 Protection of Ground Water against Pollution
GAEC4 Minimum Soil Cover
GAEC5 Minimum Land Management Reflecting Site Specific Conditions to Limit Erosion
GAEC6 Maintenance of Soil Organic Matter Level through appropriate practices
GAEC7 Retention of Landscape Features & Designated Habitats and Controlling Invasive Species

Information on all the SMRs for cross compliance and GAEC requirements can be found in the DAFM Cross Compliance Handbook, which can be downloaded here:
https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/media/migration/farmingschemesandpayments/crosscompliance/CrossComplianceHandbook130916.pdf

A few examples of SMRs and GAECs that should be considered when developing a grazing management plan for a site might be as follows:

  • If considering using pigs for a conservation grazing project the pig owner must adhere to SMR6; All pig owners must be registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, have a pig registration number and have the pig herd registered with the National Pig Identification and Tracing System (NPITS)
  • For all conservation grazing projects a reliable source of drinking water must be available for all animals at the site. SMR13 states that all animals have access to freshwater each day.
  • Under GAEC5, on farm inspections will include checking that sand dunes and/or grassland is not being overgrazed or otherwise used resulting in erosion of the sand dunes.
  • If there is development of invasive species at the site which are not being controlled. This, if left uncontrolled, will lead to an eligibility reduction over time but in the first instance will lead to a sanction under GAEC7.

If the farmer or land manager intends to include the site on his/her annual Basic payment Scheme Application for the application of the Area of Natural Constraints (ANC) payments for the area to be eligible the following requirements must be satisfied:

  • The land must be used and farmed by the applicant. The land must be suitable for the farming enterprise.
  • Parcels, including commonage parcels must be maintained in such a condition as to ensure the land is suitable for grazing.
  • The agricultural activity must be the predominant activity in the area.
  • In order to be eligible for payment the land parcels must be available to the applicant for the entire year.
  • There must be independent access for animals and/or machinery. This means access by a public or private roadway or a defined right of way.
  • The parcel of land must be stock proofed using suitable fencing for the farming enterprise.
  • There must be a defined external boundary except in the case of commonage.
  • At inspection an applicant claiming to be farming the land with animals must have suitable handling facilities available to meet animal welfare requirements.

Relevant land that is considered ineligible for payments include:

  • Areas under roads, buildings, woods, scrub, watercourses, sand and areas of bare rock.
  • Areas of bog unfit for grazing.
  • Any land irrespective of eligibility on which no farming activity is carried out.

Please refer to the Terms and Conditions Help sheet for Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC)and Areas of Specific Constraint (Islands) published by the DAFM.