ANGRY farmers who claim their land has been devalued by being designated a special protection area (SPA) for the hen harrier are calling for it to be lifted or for them to be paid the money they say they are owed.
About 4,000 farmers are impacted by the designation - with 3,000 now part of the newly formed Farmers with Designated Land (FWDL).
FWDL chairman Jason Fitzgerald says all its members are already part of farming organisations but he feels these have "washed their hands" of the issue, forcing them to form a new protest group.
Both the IFA and the ICMSA have called for the scheme to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
The FWDL has planned another protest meeting in Lyreacrompane in Co Kerry tonight, the latest in a series of public meetings that have already taken place in Cork, Limerick and Tipperary in recent weeks.
Mr Fitzgerald said this was causing "heartbreak" for farmers who had been offered incentives when their land was designated.
A total of 169,000ha, mainly in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Galway, were designated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) under the Natura 2000 (Birds Directive) to protect the hen harrier.
The Government offered the farmers a compensation package for designated lands of €350/ha up to 40ha and €25/ha for the next 120ha and €5/ha thereafter.
But the scheme was suspended after 366 farmers had signed up and is no longer available.
The group has already met with Department of Agriculture officials to outline their concerns.
They're looking for interim relief, pending a long-term solution, to what they say is the burden the hen harrier SPA has placed on landowners.
Mr Fitzgerald says up to 4,000 farmers are out of pocket.
"While the Government was obliged to designate lands for the protection of the hen harrier, they were also obliged to compensate landowners for the devaluation of their lands caused by the restriction on farming practices and as a result, our land is now almost worthless," he said.