Manag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and de­liv­er­ing the Hen Har­rier Project

Irish Examiner - Farming - - GENERAL FARMING -

The chal­lenges of de­vel­op­ing a pro­gramme which ad­dresses farmer needs while sup­port­ing breed­ing hen har­ri­ers were de­scribed last week by Fer­gal Mon­aghan of the Hen Har­rier Project.

At last week’s Na­tional Agri-en­vi­ron­ment Con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Tea­gasc, Mr Mon­aghan said the project is the largest of the Euro­pean In­no­va­tion Part­ner­ships (EIPS) sup­ported in Ire­land’s cur­rent Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme.

It is avail­able for farm­ers in six spe­cial pro­tec­tion ar­eas (SPAS) for breed­ing hen har­rier. The breed­ing pop­u­la­tion in these SPAS is in long term de­cline. The pop­u­la­tion in the largest SPAS, on the Clare­gal­way bor­der, and in West Lim­er­ick and ad­ja­cent parts of North Kerry and North Cork, is de­creas­ing at an alarm­ing rate. Mr Mon­aghan said that mea­sures to halt this de­cline, in­clud­ing the mora­to­rium on new forestry, have been con­tentious, and are seen by many as de­valu­ing their land. The project stemmed from the Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme in­clud­ing €25m for a new agri-en­vi­ron­ment pro­gramme in the hen har­rier SPAS, to sup­ple­ment sup­port avail­able through the GLAS scheme.

Such a pro­gramme would ben­e­fit from the flex­i­bil­i­ties per­mit­ted to EIPS, but would still have to jus­tify pay­ments based on de­liv­er­ables above and be­yond what could be ex­pected from GLAS. Mr Mon­aghan said the protwo gramme also needed to be work­able within the re­sources avail­able, and adapt­able to chang­ing cir­cum­stances — two ob­jec­tives not al­ways com­pat­i­ble. De­vel­op­ing a pro­gramme takes time (the Bur­ren pro­gramme took over 15 years). “Manag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions is al­ways a chal­lenge.”

The pro­gramme must of­fer enough to in­cen­tivise and sup­port the farmer, but not so much that the num­bers of farm­ers ac­com­mo­dated would be in­ad­e­quate, due to the lim­ited bud­get. Pro­gramme de­vel­op­ment was also con­strained by the small pool of avail­able tal­ent. The ad­vi­sory re­source avail­able to sup­port farm­ers in a re­sults-based scheme is also lim­ited.

Up skilling and de­vel­op­ing sup­port sys­tems to in­crease ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity were pri­or­i­ties.

Mr Mon­aghan said: “Our ap­proach also needed to be prac­ti­cal for farm­ers and to re­spond to their needs, it is no use en­cour­ag­ing up­land graz­ing if it is un­prof­itable, and so im­prov­ing an­i­mal per­for­mance on up­land pas­tures and demon­strat­ing this to the farm­ing com­mu­nity was es­sen­tial.”

There is also a need to demo n s t r a t e p r o g r e s s . T h e num­ber of breed­ing hen har­ri­ers is one mea­sure. “But to in­form the de­sign of the next RDP, we need to cap­ture im­prove­ments in the de­liv­ery of a whole suite of ecosys­tem ser­vices.”

How­ever, the ini­tial de­vel­op­ment phase of the project has ended, and the struc­tures and sys­tems we need are largely in place, said Mr Mon­aghan.

“The next stage is build­ing a pro­gramme that goes be­yond a scheme, a pro­gramme that works for and with com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try, a pro­gramme that em­pow­ers peo­ple within those com­mu­ni­ties to take charge of a sus­tain­able farm­ing for na­ture ap­proach in the fu­ture.”

Dr Fer­gal Mon­aghan of the Hen Har­rier Project.

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