996 farmers have this week shared nearly half a million euro in Hen Harrier Project bonus payments.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett has welcomed the news, saying that the payments are “in recognition of these farmers’ success in delivering habitats for hen harriers and other wildlife”.

The payments, which total €483,927, are paid under the €25 million hen harrier programme funded by Minister Hackett’s department under the Rural Development Programme.

Fires in upland areas

The minister said that in a week “dominated by reports of fires in our upland areas, it is a relief to get some good news”.

“I am delighted to see these result-based payments being made to farmers who have ensured that the hen harrier population in Special Protection Areas [SPAs] have reached their objectives.

“This is a real achievement and the farmers involved have earned every cent. This payment is not a hand-out. The farmers have managed their farms to deliver a habitat that sustains the hen harrier population and they deserve recognition for that. These farmers are true farmers for nature.”

This particular hen harrier bonus payment is one of three in the programme. It is made if the hen harrier population in an SPA reaches its objective. 

Farmers who delivered the quality habitats in that SPA share in the bonus, while farmers whose lands are within the core territory of hen harrier nests can qualify for an additional payment.

If the nest is successful, that achievement is recognised through the reward of a higher bonus payment. 

The payment supplements a results-based payment for habitat quality and a supporting actions payment for investments designed to improve the farmer’s capacity to deliver enhanced habitats.

Fragile ecosystems

Acknowledging the cooperation required to deliver such a programme, the minister also said: “The recent fires, especially in Killarney at the weekend, are a reminder of the importance of good management of our fragile ecosystems and this hen harrier scheme is an excellent example of the collaborative approach which is needed.”

She added that the success of this scheme “shows that a national agri-environment programme tailored for local communities and landscapes, yet effective in delivering local objectives, really is achievable”.

The programme has been operational since 2017 and will run until spring 2023. It works with nearly 1,600 farmers across the six SPAs for the species. These farmers manage 38,000ha of the upland landscapes in the SPAs.

The payment is not guaranteed, it is a dividend paid out where hen harrier presence and success demonstrate the delivery of desired outputs.

Payments are made in spring to coincide with the return of hen harriers to their breeding grounds.

Hen harrier nest destroyed

The Hen Harrier Project confirmed a number of days ago on Twitter that an active nest was destroyed in the weekend’s fire in Killarney National Park. The hunting grounds for three other pairs were also lost.

The project added that “countless other animals were killed”, and there is a need for a “coordinated approach to deal with this”.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is currently working with An Garda Síochána to investigate the cause of the fire and fully assess the damage.