Birdwatch Ireland and the Irish Raptor Study Group yesterday voiced concerns about growing negativity towards this bird of prey from certain farming sectors.
Despite the portrayal of the hen harrier as a threat to farming livelihoods, they said the interests of farming communities in rural areas are much more compatible with hen harrier conservation than recent media reports indicate.
The conservation groups said they are deeply concerned over mounting pressures to lift a ban on planting of forestry within the Special Protection Area (SPA) network for hen harriers.
“Recent comments by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Tom Hayes indicated support for further afforestation in these protected areas, which would be an environmental disaster and have a devastating effect on the national hen harrier population, which is already in decline,’’ they added.
They claimed plans submitted to the European Commission advocating further afforestation would be a severe blow to any effective conservation strategy and would fail in achieving economic and environmental priorities in rural areas.
John Lusby, raptor conservation officer at BirdWatch Ireland, said hen harriers are largely dependent on traditional, non-intensive farming practices.
“Allowing landowners in upland habitats to continue to farm appropriately would deliver significant biodiversity benefits for a range of sensitive habitats and wildlife, including the hen harrier,” he said.
There are six SPAs designated for breeding hen harrier in Ireland, all of which are already heavily forested, according to Mr Lusby.