The Ministry of Defence has paid out over £1 million to Northern Ireland farmers whose animals were frightened by low-flying aircraft in the last five years.
Noise from attack aircraft and helicopters on training missions led to hundreds of claims from owners of horses, cattle and even hens, the MoD revealed.
The statistics were released after a Freedom of Information request and follow concerns about activity by low flying aircraft in the Mid-Ulster area recently.
Under Ministry guidelines farmers can claim compensation if their animals are killed or injured after being startled by MoD aircraft, and since 2004 some £1,103,940 has been paid out in livestock claims across Northern Ireland.
In one case £126,565 was paid to a farmer for the loss of pedigree cattle after Chinook helicopters were sent in to demolish hilltop sites in south Armagh.
Another £13,000 was awarded to compensate for the killing of free range hens and damage caused to a hen house by low-flying MoD aircraft.
The amount of compensation has fallen sharply in the last year, from £414,000 paid out during 2006/07 to less than £100,000 in the 2007/08 financial year, although the MoD said settled claims may relate to incidents in previous years.
Mid-Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said he was not surprised by the payouts and had previously received complaints from farmers about low-flying aircraft.
“This kind of thing causes distress to animals,” he said. “Often it is horses and cattle but it can also be premium livestock, really top of the range produce. If a farmer has to abort a prize foal or calf then it can be very expensive.
“It is a big concern for local farmers and in the last year I’ve had complaints about cattle being driven wild by the noise of these machines.”
Mr McGlone said he had recently been contacted by constituents complaining about MoD aircraft activity in the east Tyrone and south Derry regions.
It is believed the helicopters have been conducting late-night training exercises in preparation for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is very intrusive for people in Mid-Ulster,” Mr McGlone added. “They have to put up with the noise of these high-powered machines just above their rooftops.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said it was aware of problems caused by low-flying aircraft.
“Animals are easily frightened by loud noises,” a spokesman said. “There have been instances where low-flying aircraft have caused animals to run into rivers and drown and others have got caught in fences.
“An average farm animal can be worth up to £1,000 so the cost of losing livestock can be quite significant.”
In total, the MoD has paid out £7.6m to cover 511 incidents involving low-flying aircraft since 2004, according to claims reports.
An MoD spokesman said: “Low level flying is an essential skill that Army, Navy and RAF aircrew must refine before a deployment.”