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Ards and Down Area Plan 2015
Policy Framework: Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

Agriculture

Agriculture is the predominant land use within the Plan area and employed 4556 people on 2119 holdings in 2001. Over two thirds of farms in Down District and almost half in Ards Borough are involved in cattle and sheep production. Dairy farming is also important, particularly within the Ards Borough. The Ards Borough currently has one of highest numbers of farms per District producing cereals, general crops or involved in horticulture in Northern Ireland whereas Down District has the highest number of mixed farms and falls within the top 10 districts for farms involved in cattle and sheep production.
A number of agri-businesses also exist within the Plan area, for example, the strong poultry sector within the Crossgar area, poultry and meat processing outlets in the Newtownards area and numerous small companies specializing in providing and repairing agricultural machinery.
Farm size within the Plan area tends to be small with approximately half of farms in both Districts classed as very small by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD (NI)) under European standards and only 2% in Down and 10% in Ards described as large.
In common with the rest of Northern Ireland, farm incomes in the Plan area are falling in real terms, leading to an increased demand for alternative employment on and off the farm. The Department accepts the need for farmers to diversify into non-agricultural activities in the context of prevailing planning policy to supplement their farming income and the DARD (NI) has a range of grant assistance to support this process.
Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are designated by DARD (NI) and comprise areas of special landscape, wildlife or historic interest which can be protected or enhanced by supporting and grant aiding specific agricultural practices. The Mournes and Slieve Croob ESA falls partly within the Plan area.
Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) are areas where the natural characteristics, including geology, attitude and climate, make it difficult for farmers to compete. However, within these areas, agriculture is the main factor shaping and maintaining valuable landscapes and habitats. Support is therefore paid to farmers in the LFA so that society can continue to enjoy these benefits. LFAs are divided into Disadvantaged and Severely Disadvantaged Areas. 89% of farms in Ards Borough fall mainly outside Less Favoured Areas whereas 60% of Down District farms fall within defined Less Favoured Areas and 16% within Severely Disadvantaged Areas.
High quality agricultural land is a valuable and finite resource. Within the Plan area, there are areas of agricultural land comprising some the best and most versatile in Northern Ireland. Of particularly high quality is the agricultural land below Scrabo and around Newtownards and Comber.

Forestry

Forestry operations within the Plan area are carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Forest Service. Approximately 110 hectares within the Ards Borough and 1770 hectares within the Down District are within publicly managed woodland. Forest Service currently combines the commercial production of timber with public recreation at a number of locations including two forest parks at Castlewellan and Tollymore and minor recreation areas at Drumkeeragh Forest and Donard Park.
Forest Service also assists in the planting and management of privately owned woodlands within the Plan area through the payment of grants.
A review of forest policy in Northern Ireland and the preparation of an updated long-term strategic vision for forestry based on the principles of sustainability is presently underway.
Community Woodlands have been established by the Woodland Trust at 8 locations within the Plan area as shown on the relevant Countryside Maps and relevant settlement maps. These woodlands were established in partnership with local communities as part of the “Woods on Your Doorstep” project which began in 1996 with a grant from the Millennium Commission.
These woodlands are intended to mark the millennium and will provide a source of informal recreation, beauty, tranquillity, and quiet enjoyment for local people. The sites will also increase people’s awareness of woodland, contribute to woodland biodiversity and increase the area of new native woodland. The Woodland Trust provides and maintains paths, gates and similar facilities for public access.

Fishing

The Plan area comprises two coastal areas as well as Strangford Lough and has an important fishing industry centred on the busy ports at Portavogie and Ardglass. The processing and packaging of fish is also important in economic terms to the local areas around these villages.
In 2007, almost 8% of the full time employment in the Northern Ireland fishing industry was based in Ardglass and 21% in Portavogie. Ardglass has a higher full time labour force involved in fish processing and marketing and a rather low proportion of part time workers. Almost two thirds of the full time labour force based in Portavogie is involved in catching, although Portavogie does have a relatively high proportion of part time workers who are predominantly involved in processing and marketing. At 31 March 2008, 14% of the Registered Fleet in Northern Ireland was based in Ardglass and 16% in Portavogie. Vessels in Ardglass were generally smaller in overall length than those based in Portavogie.
Recreational fishing, mainly under license, also takes place along the various rivers and inland watercourses within the Plan area, which are also important habitats for wildlife. For example, the Shimna River in Newcastle is renowned for its salmon population.
Strangford Lough also has a vibrant business sector involved in aquaculture.

Regional Policy Context

The Regional Development Strategy (RDS) includes the following strategic planning guidelines:
  • To maintain a working countryside with a strong mixed use rural economy (SPG-RNI 1); and
  • To continue to create and sustain an attractive and unique rural environment in the interests of the rural community and the Region as a whole (SPG-RNI 5).
SPG-RNI 1 will be implemented through the following policies:
  • RNI 1.1 Sustain the continuing development of a strong agricultural and agri-food sector;
  • RNI 1.2 Facilitate the development of rural industries, businesses and enterprises appropriate to the open countryside which benefits economic activity while protecting or enhancing the environment;
  • RNI 1.3 Sustain and extend the forestry resources of Northern Ireland; and
  • RNI 1.4 Maintain a viable fishing industry in Northern Ireland.
SPG-RNI 5 will be implemented through the management of rural resources to achieve a more sustainable pattern of development.
Draft Planning Policy Statement 21 (PPS 21) – Sustainable Development in the Countryside contains current regional planning policies related to agricultural and forestry development and  agricultural diversification.
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