Partners: University College Cork & BirdWatch Ireland
Funding Body: Department of Agricutlure, Food & the Marine
Duration: December 2017 - December 2019


Though widely distributed across the island of Ireland, hen harriers are scarce with a current estimated breeding population of just 108-157 pairs in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 . Hen Harriers are Amber-listed in the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland, due to historical declines and continued vulnerability to habitat loss and persecution. They are also listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, which is a legislative framework designed to protect birds, and includes measures such as the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Six Hen Harrier SPAs were designated in 2007 and these must be managed to maintain suitable habitat for hen harriers.

Hen harriers are typically open habitat birds but the BIOFOREST Project (UCC, 2000-2006), reported their use of forested landscapes and identified a potential conflict with maturing forests and canopy closure. Hen harriers in Ireland were subsequently recorded actively selecting recently planted forests for nesting (Wilson et al. 2009) which have been recorded as the most important nesting habitat in the most recent national hen harrier surveys (2010 and 2015). At one study area in Ireland a negative association between second rotation pre-thicket forest and breeding success was subsequently identified, which suggests that this species may be subject to an ecological trap. Young, open forests are an important habitat for hen harriers in many areas where other natural habitats are degraded, and given the large numbers which now use these forests, finding an appropriate balance between forest management, industry priorities and conservation is key to the success of hen harrier populations.


This project aims to exploit large, archived datasets on hen harrier breeding ecology in Ireland, a large proportion of which has been collected by UCC as well as the latest 2015 survey data. We will investigate the relationship between hen harrier breeding success and forest management practises in the face of climate change. 


Research Methods
Existing and new data will be used to examine whether variation in hen harrier breeding success is related to forest management practises. Two field studies will generate new data on previously identified knowledge gaps – the vulnerability of breeding hen harrier in different habitats to predators and the impact of clear felling debris (brash) within second rotation forests on habitat quality. We will also address three specific practical site-focused planning and management measures, identifying areas where forest removal will have the most impact, reviewing current pressures on hen harriers and conducting a meta-analysis of alternative mitigation measures to current Red Zones in place.

The findings of this study will be used to derive recommendations for the management of forest expansion in Ireland in relation Hen Harrier conservation.



University College Cork:

BirdWatch Ireland:

  • Researcher: John Lusby


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