Hen harrier compensation package gets a cautious welcome
Published 28/10/2015 | 02:30
Farm bodies have called for the €23m compensation for farmers with tracts of land affected by the hen harrier Special Protection Areas (SPAs) legislation to be delivered as soon as possible.
There was a "cautious" welcome for the new measures announced last week by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney. These will allow farmers in designated hen harrier areas to apply for funding under new Locally-Led Agri Environment Schemes (LLAES).
The ICSA's Billy Gray called on Mr Coveney to ensure the monies are disbursed within the next few months as a "goodwill gesture", while Liam O'Keeffe of the Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL) organisation also called for a speedy delivery.
The ICMSA's Patrick Rohan said the minister had belatedly recognised the plight of the affected farmers.
However, it is likely to be several months before the compensation scheme receives EU Commission approval.
Some 4,000 farmers are adversely affected financially by the hen harrier designation and some 167,000ha of land - mainly in the west and southwest -has been effectively 'sterilised' by the conservation measure since it was introduced over seven years ago.
Only 10pc of the farmers impacted have received any kind of compensation.
The hen harrier SPA legislation has turned the designated land into hen harrier sanctuaries with no new development allowed on the land and a ban on converting it to forestry.
Mr Coveney intends to bring an amendment to the EU's Rural Development Programme this spring which will see impacted farmers able to apply for the LLAES measure.
He said that if all farmers with hen harrier land applied to the new scheme it would amount to more than €23m a year, including the enhanced GLAS scheme which allows farmers to earn up to €7,000.
Mr Coveney said he had also agreed with Minister Heather Humpreys to accelerate work on the forestry aspects of the hen harrier designated lands.
"The intention here is to give clarity to land owners about where afforestation planting is possible and to avoid any restrictions that are not necessary," he said.
Mr Gray said the money should be in the farmers' banks accounts as soon as possible. There was no need for any further discussion or studies on the hen harrier issue.
"I am also concerned about the length of time it will take to get the schemes designed and approved, consequently these farmers will have a long time to wait before they see any money," he said.
Mr O'Keeffe of the IFDL said the department was now correcting the situation for impacted farmers but the scheme should have been brought forward much earlier.
"If urban dwellers were forced to restrict development on their property in the same way as the hen harrier farmers then there would be murder. But at least the money is there now for the farmers affected by the designation," he added.