Hen harrier regulations have left land 'almost worthless' claim farmers

The hen harrier bird of prey in full flight
The hen harrier bird of prey in full flight

Martin Ryan

Up to 4,000 land owners claim their land has been left "almost worthless" as a result of it being designated a Special Protected Area (SPA) for the hen harrier.

A total of 169,000ha of farmland in six areas has been designated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) after the Government were obliged under NATURA 2000 (Birds Directive) to protect the hen harrier.

Farmers in affected areas are now mounting a challenge to the designations and have organised a series of public meetings across the southwest to rally support.

Farmers are angry that affected lands - which are mainly located in counties Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Kerry - have been devalued by the designations. Land owners also claim they were not consulted regarding designations or offered a fair level of compensation.

The farmers, who have banded together under a new umbrella body called Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL), met with Department of Agriculture officials last week to outline their concerns. They called for interim relief pending a long term solution to the burden the Hen Harrier SPA designation has placed on the land owners. The Cork chairman of IFDL, Jason Fitzgerald, said farmers had to be compensated for the losses incurred.

"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 afforestation and farming practices such as reclamation and drainage. Our land is now almost worthless," Mr Fitzgerald said.

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. There was generally a requirement to agree a five-year farm plan. However, this scheme was suspended after 366 farmers had signed up and is no longer available.

"More than 4,000 farmers never got the money they where promised and there land is now worthless," Mr Fitzgerald said.

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The farmers have now been offered recompense under the GLAS scheme which has a payment ceiling of €5,000 per farm and does not compensate for the losses.

"The aim of the IFDL is to restore the value of designated lands to the same value as neighbouring non-designated lands and that of similar type land elsewhere. Farmers have been providing suitable habitat for the hen harrier at no cost to the State for centuries," he said.

He added that the very good relationship with the NPWS that had formerly existed has turned very bitter.

Public meetings will be held in the southwest over the next month. The first of these takes place in the Community Hall, Ballyvourney, Co Cork, on Thursday (November 13), with another in the GAA clubhouse, Athea, Co Limerick on Friday. Both meetings start at 8:30pm.

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