FARMERS say the imposition of planning laws on the draining of land is "bureaucracy gone mad" and an assault on property rights.
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president Gabriel Gilmartin said farmers will have to shelve their land improvement projects due to the new draconian measures.
Following a court ruling by the European Court of Justice, any drainage works will now have to conform to statutory instruments requiring either planning permission from a local authority or a consent from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and with the potential for an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that the Oireachtas has no choice but to adopt planning regulations which will reduce the exemption threshold for the drainage of wetlands from the old 20-hectare limit down to one-tenth of a hectare.
Furthermore, the threshold for a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) of drainage of wetlands will be reduced from 20 to two hectares. This will impact most upon farmers with wetlands including Shannon Callows, turloughs, swamps and marshes, floodplains and cliffs.
Mr Gilmartin said: "For some time now, farmers have had to put up with Big Brother watching them, but it’s now got to the stage that Big Brother wants more, including the right to interfere and frustrate progressive farming.
"Many farmers will be asking where does it all stop? There seems to be no end to the ever-increasing bureaucratic nonsense and interference, all originating from Brussels but implemented with gusto by our own bureaucrats," he said.
"It also opens up the appalling vista of An Taisce and other assorted serial objectors intervening in normal farming operations on land that they don’t own and in farming decisions for which they have no economic responsibility or liability."
Outside of a list of wetland types, the requirement will be for an official consent from the Department of Agriculture before farmers can undertake all types of land improvement and reclamation.
Included in this list are the removal of field boundaries, the re-contouring of land by infill, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture and drainage and irrigation.
There is also the possibility that an EIA will be required in these cases, where the amount of land concerned is above a certain threshold.
The IFA, ICMSA and other farm groups have all criticised this EU directive as a retrograde move which is punishing Irish farming despite its enviable environmental record, including planting 10,000km of new hedgerows, building over 3,000km of stonewalls, planting one million broadleaf native trees and recycling 20,000 tonnes of plastic in 2010 alone.