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12 January 2006
Irish farmers urged to be countryside guardians

Irish farmers must become guardians of the countryside to ensure that archaeological monuments survive, it was claimed by the National Heritage Council.
     Heritage Council chief executive Michael Starrett said Ireland lagged behind most European countries in how it manages the countryside. "The Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS-4) is a new opportunity for farmers and landowners to get recognition for the role they play in managing and protecting our heritage, environment and landscape. They perform a unique public service that benefits everybody in Ireland," he added.
     The Heritage Council wants to see a considerable change of emphasis so that agri-environmental payments go to the farmers that contribute most to heritage management. The council also called for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government to carry out a nationwide audit of national monuments. A Heritage Council survey in 1998 found that one-third of the state’s archaeological monuments had disappeared or been destroyed since 1840. The rate was found to be highest among earth-based features like ring forts and in intensive farming areas such as the south-east of the country. The change of land use as well as erosion and natural weathering were cited as factors in the decline. Heritage Council archaeologist Ian Doyle said today each decade sees a 10% reduction in the number of monuments.
     Landowners are obliged under the National Monuments Act to maintain monuments on their property. "Farmers would have an intimate knowledge of their land and we would call on them to protect any archaeological features they know of on a daily and weekly basis," Mr Doyle said.
     The Heritage Council also called for Government funding for farmers who protect local heritage and recommended that incentives be introduced to develop walking and hiking routes on their property. The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) welcomed today’s recommendations by the Heritage Council and said farmers had already played a pivotal role in preserving natural heritage since REPS began in 1994. The IFA’s rural development chairman Padraic Divilly pointed out that over 50,000 farmers have taken part in agri-environmental measures like preserving habitats, archaeological sites, traditional farm buildings, maintaining of stone walls and managing hedgerow.

Sources: Evening Echo (9 Jabuary 2006), Irish Examiner (10 January 2006)

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