Farm bodies call for change to the Hen Harrier Scheme

For The Birds: Since 2007 some €11m has been spent on the Hen Harrier Scheme
For The Birds: Since 2007 some €11m has been spent on the Hen Harrier Scheme

Ken Whelan

The Hen Harriers scheme, introduced as part of the wildlife conservation programme in the 2007 CAP deal, is sterilising thousands of acres of productive land and causing untold hardship to hundreds of farmers who are participating in the scheme, ICMSA's Julian O'Keeffe claimed this week.

The abolition of the scheme or some drastic reforms to the conservation programme has to be given top priority by incoming Minister for the Arts and Heritage, Heather Humphries, whose department supervises the scheme, the dairy farmer organisation has insisted.

"Farmers involved in this scheme are in no man's land. They can't do anything with their land which is effectively sterilised from a development point of view most of the farmers participating in the scheme haven't even received their agreed compensation,'' Mr O'Keeffe told the Farming Independent this week.

"And the irony is that the hen harrier population hasn't increased since the scheme was introduced and in all probability has decreased," he added.

Some 200 farmers from Cork, Kerry and Limerick gathered in Charleville, Co Cork recently to highlight the problems with the conservation scheme and demand a complete reform of the programme.

Jason Fitzgerald (40), married with three children and farming 126ac of good to marginal land in Ballydesmond, north Cork,outlined his experiences with the scheme to the Farming Independent this week.

He returned to farming just over five years ago when the construction industry collapsed. He decided to develop a dairy farm on the good land on the family farm and convert the marginal land to forestry to underpin this dairy investment.

However, as the farm is in the Hen Harrier Scheme and is drawing an annual conservation allowance of €13,800, he is precluded from planting any of the land.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

Then when he approached the banks for term loans to finance the dairy enterprise he was refused on the grounds that his land was in the Hen Harrier Scheme and was effectively restricted in terms of land use.

Fitzgerald, who says he has never seen a hen harrier on his land in his life and who was recently told by a visiting wild life inspector that she hadn't seen a hen harrier in the area for years, then decided to use his €100,000 in savings to rent two farms (80ac and 60ac) in Kanturk on a five-year lease to develop his dairy enterprise.

Again to financially underpin this expansion he decided to sell the home farm. But because of the land's 'hen harrier' designation he received no bids.

In a further and very expensive twist to the story, Fitzgerald was approached recently by a wind farm company interested in building three turbines on his land. If the green light was given to the turbines he would have netted €75,000 but the hen harrier designation put an immediate end to the possibility of developing this income stream.

"I have nothing against the hen harrier but something has to be done about this conservation scheme. It was put together in a rush and was badly thought out.

"The Government was forced by the EU to designate a certain amount of conservation land in the 2007 CAP and they did it is a rushed fashion," Fitzgerald said.

"There has to be some rule introduced which will allow active farmers to leave the scheme if they want to develop their farms. Good land is being taken out of use by the scheme,'' he added.

There are six special protection areas for the hen harrier throughout the country and since 2007 some €11m has been spent on the scheme.

There are 144 recorded hen harriers in the country and 
377 farmers and their farms are participating in the programme.

Both the ICMSA and IFA want the scheme reviewed as a matter of urgency. Minister Humphries is awaiting an inter-departmental review of the scheme.

Indo Farming

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App