There will be difficult times ahead for hill farmers if their concerns on public access and hillwalking are not addressed, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said.

The INHFA has outlined some major concerns around the issue of public access and is warning of a very difficult summer if farmers' concerns are not addressed.

There is the need for immediate engagement between State bodies and farmers that should focus on addressing the ongoing concern farmers have with regard to members of the public accessing their property, INHFA vice president Pheilim Molloy said.

"Over the last year, we have seen a major increase in the number of people accessing our hills.

'Significant increase'

"This in turn has led to a significant increase in the number of farmers contacting our office distressed and frustrated by some hillwalkers showing scant regard for them and their property.”

Molloy added that these farmers affected by public access have outlined details of dog attacks on sheep and the blocking of gateways and access routes through illegal parking.

Furthermore, instances have also been reported of verbal abuse towards farmers when walkers were challenged as a result of disobeying signs, he said.

Increased littering

Additional concerns outlined by the INHFA vice president included gates being left open, fences being broken and increased litter as well as the ever-increasing risk of fires resulting from a growth in wild camping.

"Farmers have been more than patient, but this patience and their good will is not something that should be taken for granted, which is why we need immediate engagement.”

Molloy stressed that this engagement must be driven by Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin and supported by county councils and include, as a starting point, an awareness campaign around a code of conduct for hillwalkers.

"The INHFA wishes to acknowledge that the vast majority of walkers are compliant with requirements. However, it has to be restated that farmers are very concerned about the prevalence of events as outlined and require an immediate resolution," concluded Molloy.

Just last week, over 100 sheep were attacked in Co Meath.