Managing expectations and delivering the Hen Harrier Project
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.