At the outset, I would like to welcome the fact that almost 27,000 applications were submitted in the first tranche of GLAS applications, which is very much in line with the projections I made when launching the scheme.
The prioritisation of farms with clearly identified priority environmental assets is a key component of GLAS, and one which has been broadly welcomed by farmers, environmental NGOs and the European Commission. The identification of priority farmland bird areas on the GLAS system, including Hen Harrier, was informed by the expertise of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), who provided the most up-to-date datasets available. The townlands of Ballincurrig and Ballyduff, while not formally notified to the European Commission as Special Protection Areas, were notified to my Department by the NPWS as areas which are also important for the bird.
It is important to note that GLAS is a completely voluntary scheme and the payment rate for this farmland bird action, at €370 per hectare, subject to a maximum payment of €7,000, is designed to take account of the income foregone by the farmer in complying with the prescription outlined in the GLAS Specification. I have also indicated that I will consider an additional locally led Hen Harrier scheme to provide additional support for farmers with large areas of Hen Harrier habitat.
An assessment of Tranche 1 of GLAS will be carried out before Tranche 2 is opened in the Autumn. This assessment will look at uptake of particular measures and any issues which have come to the fore. There may be some adjustments to the Scheme arising from that review, but these will be designed to optimise the environmental benefit arising, taking account of the fact that the overall structure of GLAS has already been approved by the European Commission.