The objective of this designation is conservation of natural features on farmland by voluntary grant schemes on a nationwide basis and within certain designated areas.
The scheme has no statutory basis but the Irish government is legally required to put in place agri-environemtal programmes under EU Regulation 2078/92 of 30th June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the country (Regulation 215/85). The scheme is funded jointly by the Irish exchequer and the CAP Guarantee Fund.
R.E.P.S was the first nationwide scheme to encourage farmers to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Ireland. Any farmer can apply for the scheme and are responsible for creating a plan for environmental protection which must include pollution control measures over a five year period, on the basic scheme a farmer is eligible for £5,000 (old Irish Punts) per year with special incentives offered if the farm’s land is within a designated area such as NHA, SAC, Salmonid Water Area etc.
For these special areas additional measures include:
- For salmonid water areas ‘long term set aside’ of land for conservation along river banks and water edges.
- For designated areas (NHAs or lands adjoining UNESCO Biosphere Reserves) ‘degraded areas’ are identified and targeted for rejuvenation by de stocking measures.
- For farms on NHAs, farmers receive 20% extra payments for conservation on such lands.
The required environmental plan from farmers must be drawn up by an approved R.E.P.S planner in consultation with landowners which can be checked by the Department’s (Agriculture, Food and Forestry) Inspectors before being approved. The use of County Sites and Monuments Records is advised. All planners are recommended to consult the SMR to identify sites and monuments which could be located on the landowner’s farmland.
In 1994 Ireland introduced the scheme which by 1998 had in the order of 43,000 farms covering approximately 1.5 million hectares representing 31% of agricultural land. Sheep farmers had the highest rate of participation in REPS while specialist dairy farms had the lowest. Geographically, uptake was higher in western and north western regions.
The main objectives of the R.E.P.S was:
- The establishment of farming practices and production methods which reflect the need for environmental conservation and protection.
- The protection of wildlife habitats and endangered species of flora and fauna.
- The production of quality food in an extensive and environmentally friendly manner.
The R.E.P.S has widely been successful in both its social-economic and agricultural achievements however the Heritage Council in its evaluation of the scheme has stated that one of the major weaknesses of the R.E.P.S at present is that there is no comprehensive monitoring or evaluation of how the scheme is, or is not, achieving it’s objectives of protecting wildlife.