There are ethical and financial reasons for Ireland seeking to protect the hen harrier
In the issue of August 20, Michael Sweeney, managing director of Select Forestry Ltd, claimed the "hen Harrier's protection status is hitting forestry opportunities".
Mr Sweeney clearly has vested interests, standing to gain from increased afforestation of farmland. For farmers in these 'marginal' areas, regardless of whether in Special Protection Areas (SPA) or not, there is a bigger issue to consider – the future viability of their farming enterprise and the interest of the next generation in farming.
The Hen Harrier SPA has in fact encouraged people to continue farming rather than sell out to forestry. The SPA has brought financial supports like the National Parks and Wildlife Service scheme, where farmers are paid €350/ha/yr to maintain and create habitat.
The SPA gives priority access into REPS and AEOS. If the farming way of life and the wildlife that depends on it are to survive, the next Rural Development Programme (RDP) needs to include properly financed agri-environment supports.
Otherwise, farmers in these marginal areas, whether SPA or not, will continue to be lost. The monoculture of sitka spruce will replace farms that have been managed for generations and will be promoted by vested interests as the only viable alternative.
The hen harrier is one of the most spectacular examples of Irish wildlife. Its population has plummeted and forestry has contributed significantly to this decline.
Coming from rural Ireland, I fail to see the local forestry related economy to which Mr Sweeney refers. Despite most SPAs being heavily afforested, no significant sawmill or ancillary industries have been developed.