Under the terms of the EU Birds Directive, Ireland is required to identify, designate and protect the most important sites for Hen Harrier. Traditional farming is generally conducive to supporting hen harrier in these designated areas. At the time of designation, my Department opened a voluntary incentivisation scheme to support farmers to improve habitat for the Hen Harrier and various other species that share the same landscape. In 2010, the scheme was closed to new applicants due to budgetary constraints. My Department continues to honour existing 5 year contracts. This scheme has been integral in supporting not only the Hen Harrier and its ecosystem, but also the viability of farmers in these agriculturally marginal areas.
Within a Special Protection Area (SPA), a landowner has to seek permission before undertaking the following:
1. Construction, removal or alteration of fences, stone walls, hedgerows, banks or any field boundary other than temporary electric fencing (consent is not required for normal maintenance).
2. Agricultural improvement of heath or bog.
3. Off-road recreational use of mechanically propelled vehicles.
My Department is in discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine concerning a range of measures for the protection or restoration of biodiversity in Ireland’s next Rural Development Plan. This includes measures focused on Natura areas – that is, those areas designated as Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive and Special Conservation Areas designated under the Habitats Directive.
It is envisaged that these will be implemented primarily through the proposed GLAS agri-environmental scheme under the Rural Development Programme. The draft Programme is currently subject to a public consultation process, as announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.