Hen harriers live on as farmers get €11m

There are about 144 hen harriers in six protected areas across the country. Photograph:  Richard Mills

There are about 144 hen harriers in six protected areas across the country. Photograph: Richard Mills

Wed, Sep 25, 2013, 01:00

A few hundred farmers have enjoyed €11 million in Government payments for implementing measures aimed at conserving the protected hen harrier on their lands over the past five years.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan says €11 million has been paid to 377 farmers as part of the Hen Harrier Farm Scheme with the average payment to farmers being €29,177. The payments were made between 2008 and this year. Dates for entry into the scheme closed in 2010 and the latest Department figures show there are an estimated 144 hen harriers across six special protection areas (SPAs) for birds.

Development officer with Birdwatch Ireland Niall Hatch said: “The hen harrier is a thrilling bird and we have a small number of them. If the Government wasn’t funding conservation measures . . . it would be facing very substantial fines from Europe for not doing so.”

A spokesman for the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said the SPA designation places restrictions on wind-farm development, forestry and land reclamation.

According to the figures provided by Mr Deenihan in response to a written Dáil question the highest proportion of farmers in the scheme are in the Midwest with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare. There are also 60 farmers in Kerry, 53 in Cork and 32 in Galway and Tipperary.

The largest concentration of hen harriers is in the Stack’s to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills and Mount Eagle SPA where 29 pairs are located with the next highest number in the Slieve Aughty mountains in northeast Clare-south Galway.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said that without the traditional type of hill farming in hen harrier areas being supported, it would be expected that the hen harrier population would fall even further and possibly become extinct.

The scheme has been important in helping maintain and create habitat for this rare and vulnerable native Irish bird in areas that have experienced significant losses in habitat and where this species faces extinction, she added.