National Survey highlights dramatic collapse in Ireland’s Hen Harrier population

Environmentalists dismayed as government plan to save iconic upland bird has been appropriated by industry The Hen Harrier is an iconic bird of Ireland’s uplands. It is one of Ireland’s most studied species and in theory one of its most protected. Despite this it is now one of Ireland’s most threatened birds. This is according to the latest survey released today which highlights that the Hen harrier population in the Republic of Ireland has plummeted to 85 – 106 pairs in 2022, a decline of 30% since 2015 and of 59% since the first national survey (1998-2000).

A key reason for this collapse is the loss of heather and grassland habitats in our uplands due to forestry, wind energy development and agricultural intensification

  • Since the 1960’s, over half of the land surface area of the six Hen Harrierv SPAs have been afforested, including on peatlands and formerly important open habitats for Hen Harrier.
  • The 2010 national Hen Harrier breeding survey identified 313 wind turbines within surveyed 10km squares. Almost one quarter of the 10km squares that contain the known winter range of Hen Harrier in Ireland overlap with wind energy developments (1)

The impact on the Hen Harrier population from the failure to properly regulate the forestry and wind energy sector in particular is well understood and in response to concern from the European Commission the Irish government initiated a Threat Response Plan to address the decline in the species in 2013. Over a decade later, the government’s plan is open for public consultation.

Environmentalists say the plan has been appropriated by the forestry and wind energy sectors and will fail to restore the species unless guarantees are given that no further afforestation and wind farm development will happen in the Hen harriers remaining holds and that significant habitat restoration occurs in protected areas.

Environmental Pillar Steering Committee Member and Head of Advocacy at An Taisce, Dr Elaine McGoff said: “This disparity between the urgency of the plight of species and the woeful lack of ambition within the HHTRP is a direct result of the failure of the State and key actors within the forestry and wind energy sectors in particular, to accept responsibility and take necessary action.”

Fintan Kelly, Agriculture and Land Use Policy and Advocacy Officer with the Environmental Pillar, said: “This clearly is a litmus test for the Government’s new National Biodiversity Action Plan. If we are serious about protecting and restoring biodiversity, then putting in place a credible and workable plan to safeguard a threatened iconic species and restore the habitats it depends on is essential.”

“We have seen that farmers around the country are doing their part to restore the Hen harrier by creating quality habitat through tailored agri-environmental schemes but all their work will mean nothing unless the forestry and wind energy sectors are forced to also do their part.”

The coalition of environmental NGOs is calling on members of the public to make submissions to the draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP), supporting our key asks to urgently reform the plan.

To save the Sky Dancer the Hen harrier Threat Response Plan must deliver:

1.   Protect all nationally important Hen Harrier breeding and wintering grounds from afforestation, forest management and wind energy development

2.   Restore habitat across all nationally important breeding and wintering sites using clear restoration targets and timelines.

3.   Guarantee long-term support for farmers through and well funded results based schemes across all nationally important breeding and wintering grounds.

A new campaign to protect the Hen Harrier will be launched in the coming days by the Environmental Pillar and Birdwatch Ireland.

Submissions or observations in relation to the draft Plan and the SEA Environmental report and Non-Technical Summary to or in writing to: Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan Consultation, Agri-Ecology Unit, National Parks and Wildlife Service, 90 North King Street, Smithfield, Dublin D07 N7CV.


Ciaran Brennan

Communications Officer



About the Environmental Pillar: Established in 2009, we are comprised of 32 national independent environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and we work together to represent the views of the Irish environmental sector. The work of our members covers a broad range of areas including habitat conservation, wildlife protection, environmental education, sustainability, waste and energy issues, as well as environmental campaigning and lobbying. We envision a world where people and planet thrive alongside each other, and work in a number of areas to bring it about. This press release was developed using the Environmental Pillar processes but is not necessarily the policy of each member group in the Pillar.