Intensive grazing and overgrazing is impacting almost 40% of all EU protected habitats in Ireland and is by far the most prevalent agricultural pressure in these areas.
While selective grazing can play an important role in nature conservation, overgrazing can result in a reduction of plant and tree cover which can lead to soil erosion and land degradation. This impacts not only native species in the direct area but can also pollute nearby rivers with silt and nitrates.
One of Ireland’s ancient native woodlands, Uragh on the Beara Peninsula, is one such habitat facing this threat with tree seedlings impacted by both wild deer and domestic livestock.
About 200,000 hectares of upland areas currently farmed as commonages are part of the EU Natura network of protected areas. To tackle overgrazing by sheep in the 1980s, reductions in herd number were implemented as part of agri-environmental schemes.
However, overgrazing continues to be an issue for our upland heaths and grasslands and other areas according to the latest National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS) assessment. Environmental groups have called for the removal of livestock from some commonages in the West, to the opposition of local hill farmers.
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With upland habitats already under pressure from uncontrolled burning and wildfires in recent years, we want to examine the additional impact of overgrazing in protected areas and national parks.
We also want to delve into the future of commonages, including the impact on uphill farmers if herds are further reduced as well as actions by schemes and farms to address grazing.
Finally, we will examine unique areas such as Uragh to find out if adequate fencing is being maintaintained and other measures are being taken to prevent grazing.
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