The Department of Agriculture has announced a dual-purpose €35 million scheme to save the hen harrier and freshwater pearl mussel, both of which are endangered in Ireland. The money will be shared out between around 2,000 target participants. The schemes will cover six core areas containing 45% of Ireland's hen harriers, and eight river catchments that harbour 80% of our Pearl Mussels.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed was quoted as saying the scheme ‘will be designed and delivered in close collaboration with the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’.
Mr Creed added: “We want to work with management teams composed of key people who are in the best position to realise the goals of both projects, and who can build local ownership on the ground.”
Those interested in tendering for participation in the scheme can go through the online process here.
In the opinion of many conservationists, hen harriers have long been maligned and misunderstood. They got their name from preying on domestic fowl, which is one reason for their constant persecution. Although they have evolved to rely on traditional farming methods in Ireland's uplands, drainage schemes and forestry plantations have restricted their ranges.
Today there are just over 100 breeding pairs left in Ireland, meaning that alongside the native curlew, they are red-listed and likely to go extinct here without intervention. Conifer plantations have displaced many hen harriers as they cannot hunt in these forests, leading to longer waiting times for offspring and making them vulnerable to predation in their ground nests.
The 2010 shooting of a tagged young female named Heather, whose progress from hatching had been followed by thousands of people in an online nest-watch video feed, led to widespread condemnation. At that time, John Lusby of Birdwatch Ireland said: “The current ban on additional planting of forestry within the SPAs is entirely necessary, given that commercial forestry already dominates the landscape there and the fact is that an increase in forest cover within these areas is one of the primary threats both to the Hen Harrier and to other sensitive upland species.”
Freshwater Pearl Mussels are at risk from sedimentation as a result of drainage and clear-felling of forestry plantations. They need pristine water in order to reproduce and one of the worries is the prevalence of older mussels (they can live up to 100 years) without offspring, which often leads people to overlook their plight. If older mussels eventually die off without reproducing, it is expected to see a plummet in their overall numbers. Ireland hosts some of the most important surviving colonies of freshwater pearl mussels, as most European stocks died out years ago due to pollution.
Although no Department personnel were available to offer more details of these new schemes, measures may be presumed to be based along lines of preserving traditional uplands and preventing river pollution through control of sedimentation and possible run-off from slurry spreading.