ICSA west Cork chair Dermot Kelleher, who organised the meeting, said that the key objective for these farmers was to be designated for the chough bird in order to avail of a realistic Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) payment.
“The chough bird is extremely rare and found in coastal areas, including Cape Clear and Sherkin,” he said. “Bizarrely, Cape Clear has been designated for the purpose of the GLAS scheme as a chough area but Sherkin, which is literally a stone’s throw away, is not. This means that Sherkin farmers cannot get a realistic payment out of GLAS and ICSA wants to see this situation rectified.”
ICSA rural development chair Seamus Sherlock said that he would be seeking a commitment from the incoming Minister for Agriculture to re-examine the anomaly.
“While designation is usually a matter for the NPWS and the minister in charge of it, we understand that the Minister for Agriculture had the ability to rectify the situation for Cape Clear in terms of GLAS. However, this discretion was not exercised in favour of Sherkin, which ICSA believes is very unfair.”
Much of Sherkin is already designated as a natural heritage area (NHA), an area which holds species of plants and animals whose habitat needs protection. Some of the land is also designated as special area of conservation (SAC). Therefore Sherkin farmer Seán O’Neill says the farmers calling for the designation would not be under any further constriction with the chough bird designation than they are at the moment.
“We don’t get any real compensation for being an NHA or an SAC,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal, “so at least if we had the chough bird designation we would be getting some worth out of being constricted.”
Chough bird funding under GLAS
The chough bird is included in Tier 1 under GLAS, meaning that all farmers who protect the bird receive priority access to the scheme over the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme lifetime.
Under the current payment structure of the scheme, farmers receive €365/ha annually for their role in protecting the species, plus a top-up under GLAS+.
Sherkin has just 90 residents, three of whom are aged between 18 and 40. There are 10 registered herds with 350 cattle in total. There are no sheep on Sherkin and there hasn’t been a dairy enterprise since the 1970s. Some eleven farmers on Sherkin are involved in this campaign to see their land designated.