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Hen harrier breeding pairs down 33% over 7 years

The number of hen harrier breeding pairs has declined by at least 33% in the last seven years, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In its fifth national survey of the hen harrier population, conducted in 2022, the NPWS found a “maximum of 106 breeding pairs”.

It said the number of breeding pairs is between 85 and 106.

As a requirement under the EU Birds Directive in 2007, Ireland designated six sites in upland areas as “Special Protected Areas” (SPAs).

The survey found that hen harrier populations in five of the SPAs declined by between 20% and 80% since 2007.

Overall, populations in SPAs have declined by 54% in the same period.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Golden Eagle Trust, Irish Raptor Study Group and BirdWatch Ireland on behalf of the NPWS

The NPWS warns the current rate of decline could lead to the bird of prey becoming extinct within 25 years and said “urgent interventions” are needed.

Head of Advocacy with BirdWatch Ireland Oonagh Duggan said: “We know what needs to be done to save this species. Government knows what needs to be done but it is not acting.”

She said: “All national hen harrier breeding and wintering sites must be protected from afforestation, forest management activities and wind energy development.

“Habitat restoration for these important areas is also critical and we need long-term and well-funded agri-environment scheme to support farmers for their conservation efforts.”

Ms Duggan described the Government’s draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan as having “vague actions” and “lacking ambition”.

“It is just not good enough. This is a litmus test for Government and its new National Biodiversity Action Plan which has an objective to halt the deterioration of 30% of species with unfavourable status by 2030,” she added.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the Golden Eagle Trust, Irish Raptor Study Group and BirdWatch Ireland on behalf of the NPWS.


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