Minister Coveney puts wildlife and agricultural sustainability at risk

10 July 2013: The Environmental Pillar is strongly critical of Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney bringing forward the mowing date for the traditional hay meadow option within the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).
AEOS pays farmers to delay mowing of traditionally managed hay meadows until 15 July to allow the diversity of plant species to set seed, ensure ground-
nesting birds can fledge young, and provide nectar and food for a great diversity of insects.
The Minister stated today that his reason for permitting earlier cutting of meadows is due to the current good weather conditions for hay-making coupled with the fodder crisis earlier in the year.
‘Whilst everyone has concerns about the fodder crisis experienced earlier in the year, it must be borne in mind that much of our farmland wildlife also suffered the cold spring,’ said Dr. Copland, Environmental Pillar spokesperson. ‘Many species of birds have nested later than usual and are still feeding young in the nest, and butterflies have been very late to take to the wing. These could be lost when the mowers move in.’ Traditionally-managed hay meadows support many species of threatened wildlife, such as the Skylark or Small Blue Butterfly.
‘The Minister is further weakening the already poor performance of Ireland’s existing agri-environmental schemes,’ said Dr. Copland. ‘These are essential to the long term viability of the farming sector. If Irish agriculture is to be future-proofed, we need to protect the variety of living organisms and the associated benefits, including pollination, pest control and soil fertility.’
‘The actions of the Minister in bringing forward the mowing date calls into question not just the legitimacy of agri-environment payments being made to farmers, but also the attitude of the Minister in honoring commitments in Food Harvest 2020 to sustainable agricultural production in Ireland,’ continued Dr. Copland.
With continued substantial declines in farmland biodiversity, properly funded, targeted and operated agri-environment schemes, such as AEOS, are urgently required to deliver on their objectives and international requirements to conserve species and protect habitats. Research has shown that Ireland has a poor track record in delivering on biodiversity conservation through agri-environment schemes. The actions of the Minister seem unlikely to improve the situation.