Farmers with land designated as protection areas for the Hen Harrier have lost out to the tune of €980 million, according to Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL) Chairman Jason Fitzgerald.

The Co. Cork farmer told listeners to Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that the figure reflected the drop in valuation that follows hen harrier designation.

He said that approximately 170,000ha have been designated as part of the current conservation programme, mainly in the south of the country.

“We have now reached the stage where designated land has become totally unsalable. To date, the Government has only paid out €15m to affected farmers by way of compensation,” said Fitzgerald.

“This is totally unacceptable. Adding to farmers’ frustration is the fact that they cannot plant out designated land in trees, grass re-seeding is severely restricted and many farmers have been told that they must reduce their cattle and sheep stocking densities.

“The only option is for Government to lift the current designation or compensate affected farmers properly.”

BirdWatch Ireland’s John Lusby told Pat Kenny that there are currently 100 hen harrier pairs in Ireland.

“Forty years ago, the figure was 300. The Hen Harrier has tremendous conservation significance for Ireland. It nests on open ground in upland areas. This is why afforestation has played a role in reducing population numbers, particularly the large scale planting of sitka spruce,” he said.

When asked why 170,000 hectares of land is required to meet the survival requirements of just one bird species, Lusby said that the Hen Harrier is a touchstone species, reflecting the conservation values of upland areas throughout Ireland.

“But the needs of farmers must be fully recognised as part of the current conservation programme. After all, it was generations of farmers in the past, who created the landscape that best suits the needs of the harrier in the first place,” he said.