The hen harrier
is a species of high conservation concern. It is listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, which provides a legislative framework for the conservation of the species. Six Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been designated under the Birds Directive for the protection of the species in Ireland.
The Hen Harrier Working Group was established in 2006 and comprised representatives from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Forest Service of my Department, landowners and forestry interest groups. A Management Protocol for Hen Harrier SPAs was agreed by the group in March 2007.
In 2008, however, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against Ireland on foot of complaints received in relation to the protocol. Following further discussions with the Commission on the issue, the Hen Harrier Protocol was suspended in February 2010, and a review initiated with NPWS. However, the scientific basis of the protocol continued to be applied on a case-by-case basis to individual applications.
In mid-2011, the Forest Service commenced operation of a procedure agreed with NPWS for the 2011/2012 planting season. This procedure permitted afforestation on certain types of habitats, up to a set maximum level for each SPA, calculated based on the cumulative effects of existing and approved afforestation and windfarms. Full details of this procedure were announced and a working document circulated to all stakeholders in July of 2011.
This procedure ceased to operate at the end of the 2011/12 planting season. Due to concerns raised by the European Commission regarding SPA management and within the context of the decline of the population in the SPAs NPWS have initiated the development of a Threat Response Plan (TRP) under Section 39 of S.I. 477 of 2011. This plan will set out measures necessary to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for the species. NPWS will consult in relation to this Plan.
Forestry, both afforestation and the management of the existing estate, will form a significant element of the TRP. Pending the completion of the TRP, the Forest Service cannot make a determination on the potential impact of afforestation projects on Hen Harriers within the SPA. Nor is it feasible for an individual landowner to provide the level of detail required to enable the Forest Service to make this determination. As such, the Forest Service is not in a position to approve any afforestation projects within the SPA at this time. This position was notified to Stakeholders in January of this year.