Cookstown Area Plan 2010
Policy Framework: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
Agriculture is the main land use in Cookstown District and the single most important local industry, employing approximately 2,600 people on some 1,430 holdings. Almost two-thirds of farms are involved in cattle and sheep farming while pig and poultry rearing are also important.
The District's strong dairy, pig and poultry sectors are reflected in the agribusinesses that have been established in the area, including the Unipork factory and a creamery. Northern Ireland's foremost College, specialising in food technology and food science, is located within the District, based at Loughry.
Farm sizes tend to be very small by United Kingdom and European Union standards, with less than one in eight holdings capable of providing employment for two or more people. Over half are not big enough to provide full-time employment for one person and, therefore, farm incomes tend to be supplemented from other sources.
In common with the rest of Northern Ireland, farm incomes in the District 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 to supplement their farming income, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has a range of grant assistance to support this process.
The part of Cookstown District which lies within the Sperrin Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is also an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA1). The ESA scheme was introduced by DARD to help safeguard areas of countryside where the landscape, wildlife or historic interest is of particular importance and where that interest would benefit through farmers continuing with, or engaging in, environmentally sensitive farming practices. The purpose of the scheme is to encourage farmers to continue with or to adopt specific farming methods that will help to protect and enhance the conservation value of their land. Farmers may enter into voluntary agreements with DARD, in return for which an annual payment is made for each hectare of land entered into the scheme.
Forestry operations in Cookstown District are carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Forest Service and the private sector. Approximately 2,400 hectares are devoted to woodland, of which 1,800 hectares are managed publicly and 600 hectares privately. Forest Service currently employs 15 industrial workers within the area and combines the commercial production of timber with public recreation at a number of locations, such as Drum Manor and Davagh Forest Parks.
Government policy in Northern Ireland is to encourage afforestation on land where forestry is considered to be the most appropriate long-term land use. In its publication, Afforestation - The DARD Statement on Environmental Policy, the Forest Service has provided guidance on the environmental criteria to be used in considering particular afforestation proposals. The opportunity to extend afforestation onto more productive sites is also highlighted. The establishment of both broadleaf and conifer woodlands in the private sector is encouraged by grant aid from Forest Service under its Woodland Grant Scheme.
In 1996, the Woodland Trust, a charitable organisation concerned with the conservation of the UK's woodland heritage and in particular broad leafed and native trees, was set up by the Millennium Commission to create new community woods in Northern Ireland. The project 'Woods on your Doorstep' marks the millennium and involves identifying areas of existing or potential woodland within or close to settlements for planting. Each wood will incorporate, where appropriate, non-woodland elements such as ponds, meadows and hedges and a millennium statue or other feature chosen by local people.
Cookstown District is distinguished within Northern Ireland by its commercial fishing interest with Lough Neagh producing approximately 95% of the Northern Ireland eel catch. The Lough Neagh Eel Fishing Cooperative, based at Toome in Magherafelt District, represents almost 400 commercial eel fishermen who deploy some 200 boats throughout the season between May and November. Eels purchased by the Cooperative are exported mostly to Europe.
Lough Neagh also functions as an important fishery for perch, pollen and trout (dollaghan), although in recent years production has declined due possibly to over fishing, disease and/or natural variations in the fish population. There is also a number of commercial fish farms in the District especially located along the Ballinderry River.
Regional Planning Context
The Regional Development Strategy (RDS) seeks to create a strong, diversified and competitive rural economy by:
- maintaining a working countryside with a strong mixed-use rural economy; and
- continuing to create and sustain an attractive and unique rural environment in the interests of the rural community and the region as a whole.
The Department's regional planning policies for agriculture and forestry development in Cookstown District are currently set out in A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland. This contains policies for agricultural land quality, agricultural and forestry development and farm diversification. The public consultation draft Planning Policy Statement 4 (PPS 4): Industry, Business and Distribution also addresses rural enterprise and industrial projects in the countryside.
The Millennium Commission, in association with Cookstown District Council and the Woodland Trust, has identified sites at Dunman, Killymoon and Desertcreat for development as Community Woodlands over the plan period. These sites are identified on District Map No. 1 and on Settlement Maps Nos. 36a, 44b and 49.
These woodlands will provide a source of informal recreation, beauty, tranquillity, and quiet enjoyment for local people. The sites will also contribute to woodland biodiversity and increase the area of new native woodland. The Woodland Trust will provide and maintain paths, gates and similar facilities for public access. The Department will be sympathetic to proposals such as appropriate amenity facilities, sensitively located car parks and interpretative signs within or adjacent to these areas that promote their use.