Hen Harrier Conservation
Male Hen Harrier Image by Mark Carmody
As one of our most enigmatic and rarest birds of prey, Ireland is home to the most westerly population of Hen Harriers in the world. The most recent survey in 2015 estimated the population to be 108-157 breeding pairs which represents a 8.7% decline since the 2010 survey. Changes within the protected areas designated for Hen Harrier (six SPAs in total) are even more pronounced with a decline of almost 27% in 10 years (2005-2015).
Cause of the declines
Loss of suitable habitat & changes in land use
Changes in the fabric of our upland landscape over the past 50 years or so has had an enormous negative impact on upland breeding birds, including the Hen Harrier. Protected under EU (Birds Directive) and national (Wildlife Act 2000) legislation, the species has lost much of its former range through agricultural intensification, including afforestation. Over 50% of the Hen Harrier SPA netowrk in Ireland consists of commercial forest compared to just 11% nationally. Among the biggest threats to Hen Harriers today, is forest maturation and further afforestation of their preferred heather moorland and bog habitats.
Other associated factors
In addition to the loss of nesting and foraging habitat through afforestation, other issues of conservation concern facing the Hen Harrier include agricultural intensification, degradation of upland habitats, increased predation, disturbance and habitat loss from illegal burning, developments in upland areas and illegal persecution, and there are also concerns over juvenile survival and recruitment into the breeding population.
Life history of Hen Harriers
There are increased concerns regarding the ability of juveniles to survive post dispersal from natal breeding grounds and their subsequent recruitment into the adult breeding population.
Delivering a better future for Hen Harriers
BirdWatch Ireland is working to influence the best outcome for Hen Harrier conservation through a number of measures, including inputting to the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan which is being prepared by the National Parks & Wildlife Service. The purpose of the plan is to identify the main threats to Hen Harriers and identify the best solutions for a sustainable future, and it has the potential to deliver an effective framework for Hen Harrier conservation.