Q&A: 80 farms a month to enter Hen Harrier Programme

The first 80 farmers, with 4,134 hectares designated for breeding hen harrier, have been selected from expressions of interest submitted in December, writes Stephen Cadogan.

They are in all six Special Protection Areas. A further 80 are being selected from the remaining December applications, and those submitted in January. This process will continue for at least a year, with an average of 80 farms a month entering the programme.

What are the restrictions on farming in hen harrier Special Protection Areas?

There has been some confusion and misinformation on current notifiable actions in hen harrier SPAs. To clarify, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is responsible for designation of and disseminating advice on protection of habitats and species identified for nature conservation, in Natural Heritage Areas (NHA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA).

It is the responsibility of NPWS to see that designated sites are protected from significant damage. Where a landowner is considering making changes on his farm that might affect the wildlife habitat in a designated area, he must consult the local NPWS conservation ranger beforehand.

Notifiable actions are activities or operations that might be damaging, and they can only be carried out with the permission of the minister.

Only three activities are subject to notifiable action consent by the minister in hen harrier SPAs. These are:

- Agricultural reclamation of heath or bog.

- Construction, removal or alteration of fences, stone walls, hedgerows, banks, or any other field boundary other than temporary fencing .

- Off-road recreational use of mechanically propelled vehicles.

Notifiable action consent is not required for activities specified in a Hen Harrier Programme Farm Plan, as any activities covered in the plan are approved by NPWS.

Activities not included in an approved REPS, AEOS, GLAS, NPWS, or Hen Harrier Programme plan require separate notifiable action consent.

Participation in the hen harrier programme does not exempt the farmer from cross-compliance sanctions or prosecution.

Under the conditions of cross compliance, farmers in receipt of basic payment must adhere to Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) and abide by the Birds and Habitats Directives, in addition to other statutory management requirements.

The requirement for screening for appropriate assessment to be undertaken under Article 6(3) of the Habitats

Directive and submitted with any planning application for development of land in SPA areas is a planning issue for the local authority, and beyond the remit of the hen harrier project.

The hen harrier project will however assist participants with screening for appropriate assessment arising from agricultural activities.

Can I plant my land in the hen harrier SPAs?

The hen harrier project is an agri-environment programme and has no role in forestry activities.

The Forest Service of the DAFM is the body responsible for regulating key forestry activities, including afforestation and forest road construction (under S.I.558 / 2010), thinning and felling/replanting (under the 1946 Forestry Act, to be replaced with the 2014 Forestry Act (to be commenced) and aerial fertilisation of forests (under S.I. 125/2012). The Forest Service provides grant schemes and other supports to promote various components of the forest sector, principally afforestation and forest road construction.

The Forest Service also has key responsibilities under other environmental legislation, including European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I.477 / 2011), which obliges the Forest Service to be responsible for relevant aspects of the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Can commonage enter the Programme?

Yes, commonage which may be eligible for payment shall mean lands included in the DAFM’s commonage container, and farmed in common. On commonage lands, payment will only be made to project participants, it is up to them to ensure that such actions have the support of the other shareholders.

There will be no distinction in the system used to calculate payments between commonage and privately-owned land, or between owned and leased or rented land.

However, each commonage must be scored by a single advisor acting on behalf of all participants.

There is nothing to stop advisors working with different shareholders co-operating on this task.

This is necessary to avoid the anomalous situation where different scores could be applied to the same parcel of land.

In many cases, the GLAS commonage advisor may be in a position to do this. Where this is not possible, the hen harrier project will work with farmers to identify a solution.

Where can I get more information on the Hen Harrier Programme?

See www.henharrierproject.ie

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