IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Michael Fleming met with representatives from DG Environment in Brussels this week to explain farmer’s frustration at the delays in the development of the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP) and discuss the possibility of permitting a limited afforestation programme in the SPAs while the plan was being developed.
“It was a very worthwhile meeting”, said Mr. Fleming “and provided clarity on options available to the authorities in Ireland to re-open an afforestation programme in Hen Harrier SPAs if certain assessments were undertaken”.
Mr. Fleming said that he was surprised to learn at the meeting that forestry was not referred to in “The Birds Case” as he had been lead to believe. That the development of the HHTRP was not a listed action in the programme of measures submitted by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to comply with the judgement.
“This means that the Government has the authority to permit planting in Hen Harrier SPAs and does not have to wait for the HHTRP to be completed”, said Mr. Fleming. The Forest Service have Appropriate Assessment Procedures for Hen Harrier SPAs that will assess habitat changes associated with afforestation and screen the risks that are sufficient to permit afforestation while the long-term strategic plan is developed”.
The Forest Management Protocol for Hen Harriers SPAs may no longer be fit for purpose but the Appropriate Assessment Procedure requirements regarding Hen Harrier SPAs and afforestation, which were agreed by the NPWS, has proper safeguards to protect the Hen Harrier.