Forget about the millions of euro spent on turkeys this Christmas, Ireland’s most expensive bird is the rare and protected hen harrier.
New figures show that the Government spend on the bird of prey in the 10 months to Oct 20 this year amounted to €1.75m — or an average spend of more than €5,000 per recorded adult bird.
The most recent national hen harrier survey recorded 128 to 172 breeding pairs across the country, giving an estimated total of 344 adult birds.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht confirmed that €1.75m was spent on conservation measures for the bird between January and Oct 20, 2013.
The largest proportion of the monies go to farmers whose land is located in special protection areas (SPAs) for the hen harrier.
In the first 10 months of this year, farmers received €1.64m of the monies.
The highest amount was received by a Co Clare based farmer who received €16,054. Two farmers from Co Galway received the second- and third-highest amounts respectively at €15,097 and €14,884.
Outside of that paid to farmers the majority of the remainder of the funds, €97,342, went on farmer planner fees.
In a statement yesterday, a department spokesman said: “Without the traditional type of hill farming in hen harrier areas being supported, it would be expected that the hen harrier population would decline and possibly become extinct.
“The Hen Harrier Farm Plan Scheme run by the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s National Parks and Wildlife Service has been important in helping maintain and enhance habitat for this rare and vulnerable native Irish bird.
“While the scheme is aimed at the hen harrier, it is also of benefit to a whole range of species including curlew, red grouse, barn owl, skylark, golden plover, etc.
“In the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme, payments have been made since 2008. The farmer is paid for works done, e.g. the creation of hedgerows, improvement of hedgerows, design of scrub habitat, management of rushy/tussocky fields, change in stocking rate, controlled burning, creation of small mammal habitat, etc.”
The highest proportion of farmers participating in the scheme are based on the Midwest with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare.
The latest information shows that the largest concentration of hen harriers is in the Stacks to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills, and Mount Eagle SPA, where 29 pairs are located and the next highest amount located in the Slieve Aughty mountains in north-east Clare/south Galway.
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