Michael Fleming, IFA Farm Forestry Chairman has said the delays in developing the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan are unacceptable and severely damaging the image of NATURA among farmers. Farmers can no longer accept the no-planting policy in Hen Harrier SPAs while the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) drag their feet developing the Threat Response Plan.
“It is almost two years since the Forest Management Protocol for Forestry in Hen Harrier SPAs was suspended by the NPWS”, said Mr. Fleming. “The lack of progress is very frustrating for farmers, whose land has already been significantly devalued by the designation and who are now being denied an opportunity to earn an income. The NPWS have only recently invited stakeholders to participate in a Consultative Committee on the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan, with no date set for the first meeting”.
“The NPWS has shown complete contempt for farmers in Hen Harrier SPAs and research from University College Cork shows that there is no justification for the suspension of the Forest Management Protocol”, said Mr Fleming. “The research showed that the safeguards agreed in the protocol were working and the small afforestation programme were not negatively impacting the Hen Harrier population. The protocol assigned a very small annual afforestation quota that allowed farmers to plant less than 0.2% in the six designated SPA per annum”.
IFA is meeting with Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht next week to ask that the Forest Management Protocol for Hen Harrier SPAs be reinstated while the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan is being developed. Hen Harrier SPAs are areas that were historically partly under forests, so limited new forests, carefully established and managed as foreseen in the protocol, would actually improve the Hen Harrier status.