Hen harrier designation is costing farmers up to €650/ac

Protest meeting at Athea GAA clubhouse against designation of land as special area of conservation for the hen harrier
Protest meeting at Athea GAA clubhouse against designation of land as special area of conservation for the hen harrier

Martin Ryan

"Lift the designation or pay us what we're owed. We're being discriminated against - our land is worthless and we're being robbed."

That was the message from angry farmers who crammed a GAA clubhouse on the Limerick-Kerry border outside the village of Athea to vent their frustration over the controversial designation of land as hen harrier special protected areas (SPAs).

The mood of the meeting was angry, with farmers questioning why whole areas were designated without adequate compensation being arranged for farmers.

"The way that farmers have been treated in this scheme over the past seven years has been disgraceful," said Jason Fitzgerald, chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL).

"The use of farmers' land has been severely restricted without compensation which I believe they are legally entitled to. The deeds of their designated land are not worth the paper they are written on because nobody will buy it," he added.

The Athea meeting is the second of a series of regional meetings organised by the IFDL. The organisation claim that 90,000ha of land on 4,000 farms has been designated in Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Galway.

Mr Fitzgerald claimed that an agreement with Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2007 guaranteed that compensation would be paid on designated lands.

"In April 2010 the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) pulled the funding after only 366 farmers successfully accessed the scheme which left over 4000 farmers without any compensation. In 2011 afforestation was banned in the Hen Harrier SPA's and as a result the lands became worthless. That is still the situation to-day," Mr Fitzgerald said.

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Several speakers at the Athea meeting cited the restrictions on forestry, wind turbines, and residential houses and claimed to be "owed a lot of money" as a result.

Likening the action of the State bodies to "robbery", a number of speakers questioned if the hen harrier was worth the effort given that the decline in breeding pairs had continued.

Meanwhile, a consultancy report has found that the loss on forestry is equivalent to €650/ha per annum in premia and timber value.

The farmers lashed the Government and the farming organisations for their lack of response and challenged the refusal of the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to allow a voice from the effected farmers on the Threat Response Plan being established to examine the hen harrier situation.

Government politicians present supported the farmers plight, with Fine Gael TD Patrick Donovan announcing that he and party colleagues had met Minister Coveney and the NPWS to find a solution to the "unfair" manner in which the land owners had been treated.

Sinn Fein Agriculture Spokesman Martin Ferris told the meeting that land owners would have to go to Europe and present their case.

Meanwhile, dairy farmer, Maurice Flynn, described as "heartbreak" the designation as an SPA of almost 80pc of his 100ac farm at Templeglantine, Co Limerick.

Married with two young children, Mr Flynn was keen to develop his dairy enterprise to take advantage of the post-milk quota opportunity from April 2015.

"There is 80ac of my land designated and that land is worthless to me. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to buy 50ac of good land adjoining me, that would have helped to make my farm viable a dairy unit but I could not get a bid for the designated land," Mr Flynn said.

"Before it was designated that land would have been worth €4,000/ac for planting. That would have paid for the purchase of the good land that was ideal for me as a young farmer trying to make a success of dairying."

He said that he is extremely angry that the land could not even be sold but he is not receiving any compensation.

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