Farmers affected by legislation protecting hen harriers are seeking a meeting with three Ministers to solve what they are calling overly restrictive regulations.

Jason Fitzgerald, Chairman of the Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL), said over 4,000 farmers are affected by the European Commission’s Natura 2000 biodiversity legislation concerning protecting the hen harrier. He said that because of this their land has been severely devalued, due to restrictions placed on the land, but compensation has now ended for such farmers.

“The main aim is to get the value back on the land. It’s currently worthless. We were hoping that Coillte would forgo planting on a rotation, so farmers could plant instead.

“Designation means that you are restricted from farming exercises. It means you can’t plant the trees you need for a good crop. You can’t cut silage or re-seed it.”

He said the group is seeking a meeting with the three Ministers concerned: the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney; Minister of State with responsibility for Forestry Tom Hayes and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys.

The scheme, he said, was shut down in 2010 and the last compensation will be paid to farmers next year. “In 2010 all funding was withdrew, after promising funding while the designations were left in place.”

He said that designated areas were set up under Natura 2000 and the hen harrier was a protected bird under the legislation.” The Department spent a number of years negotiating and at the end of 2007 maps were sent out to farmers affected. Farmers were not able to object, as they did not have scientific evidence to do so. However, public meetings were held and the farmers were assured they would receive a payment and their land would not be affected. But the payment was not adequate to hold the value of the land.”

He also said that some 366 farmers went into a farm plan to get compensation, but under this plan they are severely restricted with stocking rates of 0.6LU/ha, as well as other restrictions. That scheme was closed in April 2010. But, another 4,000 farmers are affected by restrictions.”

The group is working on a proposal to give to the Ministers with solutions to the problem and, according to Jason, it hopes to get a joint meeting with at least two Ministers at the meetings.

“This land is perfect for wind turbines and forestry, there is no proof whatsoever that either is affecting the habitation of the hen harrier.  A UCC hen harrier study says the preferred habitats are heathen bog for foraging and nesting would be young forestation. They spend very little time on rough grazing.”