Ritchie hails ‘victory’ for Mourne sheep graziers

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has spoken to Newry Times following a meeting which took place in her constituency office regarding Northern Ireland Water’s intention to put out to open tender all of its grazing on some of the peaks in the Mourne Mountains.

The meeting was attended by farmers who have grazing rights in the Spelga catchment area, and NI Water Director of Procurement Mr Bill Gowdy.

Ms Ritchie said: “I initially met with the Chief Executive of NI Water Mr Trevor Haslett and raised the very serious repercussions of the proposed NI Water policy to put out to open tender the grazing rights in the Mournes.

“Following this meeting with the Chief Executive of NI Water it was agreed that that Mr Bill Gowdy, NI Water Director of Procurement NI would meet with the farmers affected within the Spelga Dam catchment area. During this meeting Mr Bill Gowdy listened to the arguments put forward by the farmers and myself.

Ritchie continued, “We made the very strong case that placing grazing in the Mournes in an open tender exercise and bringing in a business system to manage the grazing of the special environment of the Mourne Mountains could put at risk the delicate environment of the Mountains, which has been protected and enhanced by the experienced pastured grazing system of Mourne farmers, and their families over many generations.”

“Only certain flocks of sheep will settle on the Mountains, so it is unclear as to whom NI Water intended to attract with open tender, apart from the farmers who have had direct experience of the Mountains and already graze the area.”

“After listening to the arguments and also hearing first-hand the devastating financial implications that would occur if these farmers lost their grazing rights, Mr Bill Gowdy advised us that NI Water had decided not to proceed with this new policy of open tender and that their intention was to keep things as they are.”

“Mr Gowdy also stated that NI Water believed the current system to be fair, open, transparent and environmentally sound. Further to this, NI Water’s Director of Procurement, Mr Gowdy apologised to the farmers for any distress and inconvenience caused as a result of this proposal to open up the tender for mountain grazing.”

She added, “I am very pleased for the farmers involved and would like to pay tribute to them for their patience and understanding over this very difficult time as some of them faced the possibility of substantial financial loss in terms of reduced eligibility for single farm payments, and the possibility of having to leave farming if their grazing rights were lost.”


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