Recent announcements to the media regarding Agri-environment schemes for farmers are to be welcomed. A major source of frustration for farming communities in upland areas has been the State's conservation strategies aimed at the conservation of Hen harrier. Whilst there has been a drive to develop the uplands in many areas for wind energy and previously for industrial scale commercial forestry, many upland farmers feel that they have been unfairly treated. The new GLAS and GLAS+ agri-environment schemes are limited and it is argued that the schemes are not sufficient to support farmers in these areas.
IRD Duhallow attended and presented at the national Teagasc Biodiversity Conference "Farmland Conservation with 2020 last week. At this conference, the important role that Agri-environment schemes can have in nature conservation was outlined by a number of speakers from a range of different organisations from BurrenLIFE/Burrenbeo, Scotland's Rural College, Sligo IT to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture Food and Fisheries. A key point made by the speakers was that farmers are key to the conservation of many habitats and species in Ireland. In particular, in areas where High Nature Value Farming occurs, the farmer is instrumental and needs to be supported adequately. Active farming which creates important habitats that threatened wildlife need, must be promoted in these areas. If not we run the risk of land abandonment (and subsequent habitat degradation or loss) or intensification as the farmers tries to maintain the economic viability of his or her enterprise. In this context, any Agri-environment scheme must work, so results based systems are recommended as these can be measured. Simple monitored schemes can be devised giving the farmer better control of how he or she farms to meet the objectives of the scheme and ultimately a better incentive to reach the desired outcomes (i.e., better habitat etc.). The farmer needs to be at the centre of the scheme for it to really work.
A criticism of GLAS by farmers in Duhallow Hen harriers EU Designated areas is that the financial package put forward by the scheme is not sufficient for individual farmers, especially when compared with commercial forestry premiums paid by the state. The scheme is relatively generic and Bird NGO's believe that it is not targeted enough to really benefit Hen harrier. The proposed new Local Led Schemes, should help to address both of these issues if planned and administered appropriately.
The recent announcements by Minister Coveney regarding the proposed Hen harrier scheme following on from the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee recommendations are therefore to be welcomed.
One of the IRD Duhallow RaptorLIFE project actions is to develop and promote measures on farms within the Special Protection Area to help with hen harrier conservation. By listening and working with farmers, including the IFDL, the project has already established agreement to develop a demonstration farm for project actions to assist Hen harrier and other birds of prey. Work is also scheduled for other farms in the next few months.
We are keen however to ensure that all measures are appropriate to Hen harrier conservation and that the work of the LIFE project inform, compliment and augment any proposed Local Led Scheme by the state. To that end the project intends to meet with National Parks and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to find out exactly what is proposed, and assist in the development of a roadmap that results in the long term conservation of Hen harrier and the viability of upland farming in Duhallow and elsewhere throughout the country.
For more information on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine Oireachtas report " Designation of lands as Special Protection Areas for the conservation of breeding Hen Harriers".