The role that farmers in hen harrier areas play in maintaining and enhancing habitats need to be better supported, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has said.

IFA Ulster/north Leinster chair and SAC project team chair Frank Brady has called for more targeted, longstanding and tangible supports for farmers to be included in the threat response plan for hen harriers.

Both financial and advisory supports must be available to farmers, Brady argued.

"Initiatives must be given time too to develop and yield tangible results. There’s no point having a five-year scheme and then pull the plug or dilute its ambition by throwing it into a less targeted nationally run schemes, like ACRES, and pay farmers even less for their endeavours. Because that’s where we at are today,” he argued.

Farmers and foresters, he said, cannot be less well off from their efforts to preserve the hen harrier.

“Designations slash land values and increase the management costs due to higher environmental standards, which decrease farmers’ flexibility with regards the management of the land.

"Existing supports are wholly inadequate and do not address these fundamental issues. Farmers need permanent payments for permanent designations and no additional lands should be designated until this is rectified,” he said.


IFA farm forestry chair Jason Fleming added that there needs to be acceptance that forest management practices including afforestation are wholly compatible with hen harrier conservation when managed at a landscape level.

“The restrictions on planting and forest management activity within SPAs and non-designated important areas need to be reviewed, as they are currently unworkable on some sites.

"National annual surveys need to be undertaken to provide more accurate conservation information to minimise disturbance to both hen harriers and forest operations,” Fleming said.

The IFA has prepared a draft template submission, which is available on the IFA website, for members interested in making a submission to the public consultation on the threat response plan for the hen harrier, which closes 5pm on Tuesday 20 February.