Joint Press Release with Irish Raptor Study Group and Irish Wildlife Trust

Environmental Groups call on Minister Josepha Madigan and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to retract new proposals to allow forestry in European protected sites. The Minister’s proposals are part of a Threat Response Plan being developed by the National Parks & Wildlife Service to save the endangered Hen Harrier from regional extinction and further severe population decline.

Six Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been designated for the protection of Hen Harrier in Ireland. Large scale commercial conifer forestry is the main threat to the Hen Harrier which replaces the upland bog and marginal farmland on which this rare ground nesting bird depends. The Forest Service no longer approves new conifer plantations in SPAs due to these known negative impacts. Over 52% of the land in Hen Harrier SPAs has been lost to forestry. There are now more Hen Harrier outside of these protected areas than inside.

Despite Environmental Groups demanding that forestry is removed from SPAs as a key critical measure of the Government's Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan, the National Parks & Wildlife Service has blatantly ignored scientific evidence, expert advice and European case law and proposed planting of Hen Harrier habitat in SPAs in a conservation document that aims to avoid, reduce and reverse impacts of forestry on Hen Harrier.

Pádraic Fogarty, Campaign Officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) said:

“the National Parks & Wildlife Service has presented a draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan that is not a conservation plan, but a blueprint for the continued destruction of our protected sites and the extinction of the Hen Harrier.”

The National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine are sending a clear message that the loss of rural farming communities and natural heritage are affordable in the pursuit of forest profits for the few. The move to approve forestry in protected sites is a purposeful assault on marginal and hill farmers and the conservation value and ecosystem services provided by high nature value farmland - entirely contrary to the future direction of results-based farming and the spirit of rural socio-economic stability and integrated sustainable upland land use. There is a need for accountability within the Minister’s Department.

Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer for An Taisce said:

“It is extremely disappointing to see a draft document with no apparent conservation objectives set, no targets defined, no deliverables, and no explanation or way of measuring how proposed actions will yield any immediate, short or long term positive effects for the Hen Harrier”

The conservation of the Hen Harrier is worth over €100,000,000 to rural farming communities through agri-environment schemes as part of the Green Vision for Irish Agriculture in the current Rural Development Programme. Despite the huge investment in farming for conservation, lucrative tax payer funded forest premiums and grants are considerably higher and longer lasting than Basic Farm Payments. The low farm viability in upland areas and a looming farm succession crisis facing rural communities has driven a reluctant demand for forestry over farming in certain areas. This is despite the lack of any evident benefits of forestry to local communities over the last 30 to 40 years.

Dr. Allan Mee of the Irish Raptor Study Group said:

“The proposal to further expand forestry in Hen Harrier SPAs is not legal as the proposal is in direct contravention of European Union Environmental Law, is incompatible with sustainable upland farming, and the worst possible scenario for a conservation plan aiming to save the Hen Harrier”.

Environmental Groups An Taisce, Irish Wildlife Trust and the Irish Raptor Study Group now publicly call on Minister Madigan to retract these proposals and revise the plan to deliver positive long term gains for farmers and the Hen Harrier as a matter of urgency.


Contacts: Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer, on behalf of An Taisce
Phone: 01 454 1786
Email: [email protected]

Pádraic Fogarty, Campaign Officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT)
Phone: 01 860 2839
Email: [email protected]

Dr. Allan Mee, on behalf of the Irish Raptor Study Group Committee (IRSG)
Mobile: 087 311 7608
Email: [email protected]

... Notes to Editors:

Image of Hen Harrier that can be used. Please credit © Mario MacRory Twitter handle @muddybootsguide

  1. The Irish Raptor Study Group (IRSG) is a voluntary non-profit organisation that carries out survey, monitoring and research on Birds of Prey and Owls (Raptors) in the Republic of Ireland.
  2. The Irish Wildlife Trust was founded in 1979 as a charitable conservation body. We provide the public with information about wildlife, run education and training programs, carry out habitat and species surveys, campaign and lobby around biodiversity issues, restore natural habitats, consult with industry, agriculture and Local Authorities to maintain our natural heritage and contribute to national and international forums for the protection of biodiversity.
  3. An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. An Taisce are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, An Taisce are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations. An Taisce is a member of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Europe's largest federation of environmental organisations. We are also the Irish member of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a global organisation of over 70 nations which is recognised as a world leader in education for sustainable development and environmental education.
  4. In June 2013, the then Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys began the development of a Threat Response Plan to save the declining Hen Harrier.
  5. Under Regulation 39 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 provision is made to develop and implement appropriate threat response plans. The purpose of such a plan would be to cease, avoid, reduce or prevent threats, pressures or hazards that may be having an adverse effect on the conservation status of a species of bird referred to in Article 1 of the Birds Directive and/or causing the deterioration of the habitats of species for which a European Site has been classified pursuant to the Birds Directive.
  6. Open Birds Case: Irish Government did not meet the required standard regarding the level of protection being achieved in SPAs or in areas that should be designated as SPAs, as set out in Article 4 of the Birds Directive or Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, in particular by failing to take all reasonable measures, including targeted action to prevent their deterioration required protective measures outside SPAs have not been put in place Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas are meant to provide the conservation requirements of the species.
  7. To inform land use policy, the Government has spent over €5 million of tax payers money on forest sector led research in an attempt to establish links between commercial forestry and impacts on Hen Harrier. This research shows strong scientific evidence that conifer forestry negatively impacts Hen Harrier and is a driver of population decline.
  8. Both the extent and demography of the forest estate (habitat loss/temporary availability/predation) in upland areas are the mechanisms driving Hen Harrier decline. The number of breeding Hen Harrier in Ireland has predictably continued to be lost from previous strongholds. Environmental Groups are demanding forestry is removed from SPAs as a key critical measure of the Government's Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan. Forest removal and restoration to upland habitat is essential if the Government have any remote hope of halting the population decline, localised extinctions and maintaining a viable, stable breeding population in the Natura 2000 network long term.
  9. Loss of bog and rough grassland to forestry results in significant negative long-term effects on the breeding Hen Harrier population in Ireland. Hen Harrier can use early growth stages of forest, however scientific studies have shown birds nesting in forestry are more susceptible to predation and are therefore less successful, driving population decline.
  10. A forest sector led tax payer funded research project undertaken by University College Cork showed that where the proportion of 2nd rotation pre-thicket forest within 1km of Hen Harrier nests increases above 10% land cover, nest survival decreases below a sustainable level. The Government have not provided any data on what proportion of 2nd rotation pre-thicket forest exists within the Hen Harrier SPAs either at present or into the future.
  11. An open complaint to the European Commission led to a Forest Service imposed ban on any further planting in Hen Harrier SPAs in 2009. The Forest Service have categorised all lands in Natura 2000 sites as not considered suitable for certain types of forest development.
  12. The Ministers Department have 20 years of breeding Hen Harrier data and also a highly accurate habitat map of the Hen Harrier SPA network on which to justify the urgency and scale of remedial actions.
  13. Research to date, including an Oireachtas Report and the Governments own objective technical review documents on the Hen Harrier and forestry all clearly present scientific evidence of proven negative adverse effects of forestry on Hen Harrier at the national population level. Due to these known negative effects, the Forest Service, in 2009, imposed a ban on further afforestation in Special Protected Areas designated for the Hen Harrier in response to an active and still open complaint to the European Commission specifically on this issue.

Links to information:

Core Requirements for the Recovery and Conservation of the Hen Harrier in Ireland. Position Statement of the Committee of the Irish Raptor Study Group. (August 2016).

Hen Harrier Conservation and the Forestry Sector in Ireland – National Parks & Wildlife Service

Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine No. AFM 007 (October 2015): Designation of lands as Special Protection Areas for the conservation of breeding Hen Harriers.

Ruddock, M., Mee, A., Lusby, J., Nagle, A., O’Neill, S. & O’Toole, L. (2016). The 2015 National Survey of Breeding Hen Harrier in Ireland. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 93. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland.

Moran, P. & Wilson-Parr, R. (2015) Hen Harrier Special Protection Area (SPA) Habitat Mapping Project 2014. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 83. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland.


Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.