According to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, 377 farmers have received the payment as part of the Hen Harrier Farm Scheme with the average payment €29,177. The latest department figures show there are an estimated 144 hen harriers across six Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds.
Yesterday, development office with Birdwatch Ireland, Niall Hatch, said: “If the Government wasn’t funding conservation measures towards the hen harrier, it would be facing very substantial fines from Europe for not doing so.
“This is not just about protecting the hen harrier, but protecting the flora and fauna that support the bird. It is about protecting the food chain.”
Mr Hatch said that the hen harrier “has suffered from negative press and ill-informed comment, but it is a very important species and is not a threat to anyone”. He added: “Ireland has a poor reputation abroad for protecting its birds of prey and it is proper that landowners do right by protecting the hen harrier.”
A spokesman for the IFA said yesterday the SPA designation on farmers does place restrictions on wind-farm development, forestry and land reclamation.
The highest proportion of farmers in the scheme are based on the mid-west with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare.
The breakdown shows that there are 60 farmers in Kerry; 53 in Cork; and 32 in Galway and Tipperary.
A Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht spokeswoman said: “It should also be noted that while the scheme is aimed at the hen harrier, it is also of benefit to a whole range of species by looking after the shared habitat that these species require.
“The scheme has supported farmers to remain on the land. The general trend in the absence of such a scheme has been land abandonment and rural depopulation, and without this scheme it is likely that much more high nature value farmland and habitat would have been lost.”