The annual report covering year three of the Hen Harrier Project was released this week, showing that there are currently 37,000ha of land under the programme, among almost 1,600 farmers.

This land area represents 65% of the total agricultural area classified as special protected areas (SPA).

The third year of the programme – covering the period May 2019 to April 2020 – saw over €3 million of habitat payments made to participants. This payment is based on the available hen harrier foraging and nesting resources, and relative habitat value.

The issuing of the separate hen harrier payment – which is linked to bird population – was delayed, but over €450,000 was paid to 972 participants in 2020. This year also saw the first payments for ‘supporting actions’.

Year three was the first year in which the Hen Harrier Programme app was operational, which has been deemed a success by the project team, collecting data from almost 19,000 fields.

In 2019, there was a 35% increase in the number of hen harrier chicks fledged, compared to the baseline survey in 2017. While this increase was not evenly distributed geographically, this level of breeding was noted as reaching the levels needed to sustain the population.

The programme was hampered in various ways in year three by Covid-19. In particular, the provision of training for farmers and advisors; hen harrier monitoring; and the printing and distribution of annual works plans were all impacted.

In response to the disruption to farmer training, instructional videos were produced instead.

The second round of contract offers were made in April 2019. Of the 1,059 contracts offered, 895 were accepted. This increased the number of participants to 1,525. There was one withdrawal from the programme.

Following an assessment of the 2019 habitat payments, it was determined that the project could accommodate additional farmers. A total of 81 farmers, managing 933ha of designated land, were offered a contract in early 2020.

68 of these farmers accepted a contract, increasing the area farmed by participants in the project to 67% of the total agricultural area of the six SPAs.

Year three of the Hen Harrier Project saw the number of participants more than double.