Majority of hen harriers located outside conservation zones

Protected species: Hen harrier
Protected species: Hen harrier

Martin Ryan

A new survey has revealed that almost 60pc of the country's hen harrier population lives outside the controversial EU Special Conservation Areas (SPA) for the bird.

The survey, co-ordinated by Birdwatch Ireland, the Golden Eagle Trust and Irish Raptor Study Group on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service will raise fresh questions about the status of the hen harrier SPAs which have restricted the use of over 160,000ha of farmland, primarily in the west and southwest.

A meeting of the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan Consultative Committee is understood to have considered a draft of the survey findings at a meeting in conjunction with the Agriculture Department.

The Farming Independent understands that the survey has found that the population of breeding pairs in 2015 is about 20pc lower than in 2010 and that almost 60pc were found in non-SPA designated areas.

The population in the protected SPAs had declined by over 27pc over the same time span.

John Lusby, Birdwatch Ireland said that the organisation was not in a position to comment on the survey until the findings are officially released is officially released.

It is understood that a further meeting is being convened for December.

ICMSA farm and rural affairs chair, Patrick Rohan said that while his organisation supported measures to ensure the conservation of the bird, it was just as importantly that farmers have adequate freedom to farm and/or receive proper compensation.

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"The Hen Harrier factor is compounding difficult farming conditions in poorer areas," said Mr Rohan. "We need immediate and meaningful action to resolve the problems being experienced by farmers trying to make a living from their land."

Billy Gray, chairman, ICSA rural development committee called for a flat rate payment for all SPA-designated land to recompense for the serious use restrictions which have been imposed on farmers by the designation.

Last month the department said €23m compensation under new Locally-Led Agri Environment Schemes was being offered for farmers with tracts of hen harrier land.

It includes the enhanced GLAS scheme which allows farmers earn up to €7,000.

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