The hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) is a species of high conservation concern in Ireland and the UK and protected regionally under The Wildlife Act 1976 & Amendment Act 2000 and in Northern Ireland under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. They are listed on Annex 1 of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and considered an All-Ireland and UK priority species. The EU Birds Directive provides a legislative framework of measures required to assess and ensure the conservation status of the hen harrier, this includes monitoring, research and the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). In addition, survey and monitoring data collected during national surveys are vitally important as these data are used by the government and other agencies to help inform management and conservation decisions.
The first national hen harrier survey in Ireland was undertaken in 1998-2000 by NPWS, the Irish Raptor Study Group (IRSG) and Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) and estimated the breeding population as 102 – 129 pairs (Norriss et al., 2002). In 2005, the second national survey was conducted and an increase in the breeding population was noted with 132 – 153 pairs recorded (Barton et al., 2006). In the interim there is an on-going monitoring and research program at University College Cork (UCC) into hen harrier ecology examining dispersal (through wing-tagging), productivity, foraging and nesting requirements funded by NPWS and COFORD. In addition, annual monitoring since 2004 (e.g. Nagle & Lyden 2004, 2005) is undertaken by NPWS, IRSG, BWI and other raptor workers at a sample of sites and recently the IRSG fitted two hen harriers with satellite tags to monitor dispersal and winter ranging behaviour. During 2010 there is a simultaneous UK hen harrier survey, co-ordinated by RSPB, including Northern Ireland; therefore the All-Ireland population will be monitored and allow comprehensive estimates of the Island breeding population.
During 2010 The Irish Raptor Study Group and the Golden Eagle Ltd Trust are co-ordinating the National Hen harrier Survey in collaboration(?) with NPWS rangers and staff, volunteers, Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) and the ongoing hen harrier research program at University College Cork (UCC). The project is funded by National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS). The project is surveying 10km squares across Ireland, checking all suitable breeding habitats and enumerating the hen harrier population.
The survey has two main objectives:
- To obtain a reliable estimate of the size of the hen harrier breeding population in the Republic of Ireland
- To estimate the change in population size and distribution since the last survey in 2005