The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) aimed at building a stronger, more effective working relationship between the Agency and farming community, while supporting sustainable farming in ways that benefit and protect the environment.
NIEA Chief Executive David Small said: “Sustainable agriculture is dependent upon a healthy environment. This agreement between NIEA and the UFU shows a strong commitment from both parties to work together proactively to help farmers improve the environment in ways that support economic outcomes. It focuses on improved communication and raising awareness to ensure farmers, the custodians of the countryside, receive the necessary information to fulfil their environmental responsibilities.”
The MoU contains measures which will deliver higher levels of environmental compliance, contribute to the achievement of relevant Directives and Programme for Government targets and which should increase the profitability of farm businesses through sustainable farming and innovative, resource efficient practices.
UFU Chief Executive Wesley Aston said: “We have been discussing the MoU with NIEA for some time now. It was borne out of concerns that relationships between farmers and NIEA needed to be improved. We suggested simple things to enhance working relations and ensure the goals of both farmers and NIEA are realised. To finally have it officially agreed is a great achievement. It is a win-win for farmers and the environment and will deliver better environmental outcomes, improved compliance and farm sustainability in a way that improves relationships between farmers and NIEA.”
Mr Small added that he believes this approach will help farmers address issues that may be causing damage to the environment through closer liaison with NIEA staff.
He said: “The challenge in developing the MoU has been the balance between advocacy and regulation, and NIEA has been clear throughout the process that it will not detract from the Agency’s regulatory role – a point acknowledged by the UFU. Enforcement is one tool to achieve environmental compliance; guidance and support is another.
“This is not a softening of our regulatory approach. We are enhancing the consistency and proportionality of our approach to ensure our customers are treated fairly across the sectors. This is a positive step in the right direction to increase levels of compliance resulting in a healthier environment.”