Pilot scheme offers free environmental audit

Left to right: At the launch of the new pilot scheme, DAERA Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon, farmer Elliott Bell, DAERA's Countryside Management Unit Inspector John Scott and NIEA Chief Executive David Small.
Left to right: At the launch of the new pilot scheme, DAERA Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon, farmer Elliott Bell, DAERA's Countryside Management Unit Inspector John Scott and NIEA Chief Executive David Small.

A new pilot scheme will help farmers to identify environmental problems early on and ‘keep more money in their pockets’, a DAERA official has said.

Denis McMahon, DAERA Permanent Secretary, made the comment at the launch of the scheme which is aimed at improving the environment, reducing the number of on-farm inspections and helping farmers comply with payment rules.

The Water Management Unit within NIEA has worked closely with Countryside Management Unit and the Ulster Farmers’ Union to develop the pilot project which will deliver on-farm environmental audits to farmers who request them.

Mr McMahon said the aims of this voluntary scheme are to protect and improve our environment and help our farmers keep more money in their pockets.

He added: “We can do this by identifying and tackling any minor environmental issues around the farm and addressing them promptly, thereby improving the environment and reducing the chances of cross compliance inspections and breaches.

“The scheme, which will operate in a number of targeted catchment areas, will see DAERA staff working one-to-one with farmers to carry out the audit and make recommendations on ways to address any issues. This gives farmers the chance to put right minor matters which may have had the potential to impact on their payments.

“If successful the wider pilot approach could lead to reduced bureaucracy and an overall reduction in the number of different inspection visits to the farmyard.”

Outgoing UFU President Barclay Bell has welcomed the pilot scheme describing it as a positive move.

“The Ulster Farmers’ Union welcomes the introduction of these voluntary audits which will be offered to some local farmers,” he said. “We believe that on-farm environmental recommendations can really help farmers improve their environmental performance and comply with the rules and we are pleased to see this being delivered through the pilot scheme.

“It is positive to see DAERA moving in this direction and if successful we hope that the scheme could be rolled out further to assist more farmers in the future. We would encourage farmers to consider taking up the offer of this audit.”

David Small, NIEA Chief Executive, said the pilot scheme does not mean a softening of its regulatory duty.

He added: “There are many minor issues on farms which are considered to be of a very low severity and appear to have a minor impact on water quality or the wider environment, but collectively across thousands of farms that really adds up.

“Using the audits is a great way to increase awareness of possible problems and if farmers follow the recommendations we can not only make major improvements to the quality of our water and environment, but can also reduce costs and deliver efficiencies for farmers.

“This advocacy-first approach will offer an early warning system to put right any potential environment issues and at the same time protect their payments,” he concluded.

For more information on target catchment areas and to take part in the voluntary audit contact 028 2566 2891.