The increased footfall from tourists is now starting to impact and damage some Natura 2000 sites (SAC or SPA designations).
That is according to INHFA president, Colm O’Donnell, who called on Minister Catherine Martin, state bodies and the tourism sector to engage with farmers on the matter.
The appeal comes following a “significant increase” in the number of people accessing farmer’s hills.
Some damage to Natura 2000 sites
O’Donnell stated how the INHFA office, has in the last number of weeks, seen an “unprecedented” number of “distressed and frustrated” members contacting its office concerning some hillwalkers showing “scant regard” for them and their property.
He said these farmers have outlined details of:
- Hillwalkers ignoring requests not to bring dogs;
- Not staying to prescribed pathways;
- Also, not closing gates as instructed;
- Blocking access through illegal parking and, on some occasions, being confrontational and aggressive with farmers;
- Also, leaving large amounts of rubbish behind.
“While recognising the economic benefit a progressive tourism industry can have for local communities, we must ensure that this is done in partnership with local landowners and farmers.”
“On this basis, it is vital that all of those that are benefiting from this sector from hillwalkers, tour operators, hotels through to our county councils engage with local farmers and address any issues of concern.”
“Through this process, there will be farmers and landowners that do not want the public accessing their lands. This must be respected and enforced.”
“However, there will be a lot of farmers that are amenable to hillwalkers provided they are included, and their issues of concern are addressed.”
In developing a plan for this, there is a need for our county councils, who benefit indirectly through rates, to increase their engagement, with a possible starting point being an information campaign around a code of conduct for hillwalkers.
He highlighted the danger of continuing to “ignore the ever-increasing concerns” farmers express about hillwalking.
“The goodwill provided by many farmers should not be taken for granted.”
“This is why we are urging the tourism sector, our county councils and the minister to engage constructively with farmers in finding a workable solution,” he concluded.