Farmers in West Cork and Kerry affected by Special Protection Area (SPA) legislation concerning Hen Harriers say they are being driven out of farming by restrictions. One dairy farmer who recently sold his herd told That's Farming:
'They have brought the value of this land down from between €900 to €1100 per acre to a couple of hundred euros. The restrictions prevent us putting up wind turbines, they prevent forestry, they prevent burning and they limit stocking densities. The compensation is €5500 for five years and nothing after that. This does not come close to the cost to us.'
'We don't want to be millionaires. Most farmers just want to make a living and rear their families. We want to see the hen harrier thriving, but we don't want to be prevented from making a living. This heavy-handed approach is what turns farmers against conservation we would otherwise happily support.'
The birds are protected because they are the rarest and most threatened of Ireland's birds of prey. Hen harrier SPAs encompass over 167,000 ha of land, just under 1,000ha per breeding pair. Areas affected span Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Offaly, Laois, Galway, and Monaghan. About 30% of this area is farmed, 50% is already in forestry and 20% is wetland. Restrictions due to protection effectively prevent new forestry plantations and other large-scale developments.
Birdwatch Ireland has commented on the Hen Harrier protection controversy as follows:
'Ten years ago, the Hen Harrier did not even register in the consciousness of many people who now sadly view it in a negative light. The behaviour or ecology of the Hen Harrier hasn’t changed during that time, but somewhere along the way, perceptions of this bird of prey have: regrettably, it is now considered by some to be a threat to farming livelihoods. This view is a simplistic and misguided approach to complex policy issues which, although related to Hen Harriers, extend far beyond the bird and concerns the value that we place on biodiversity, important upland habitats and the communities which inhabit them.'