AIE: Inter-Departmental Steering Group for the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan

AIE request 012 – 2022

I refer to the request you made under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2018 (S.I. No. 133 of 2007, S.I. No. 662 of 2011, S.I. 615 of 2014 and S.I. No. 309 of 2018) (hereafter referred to as the AIE Regulations) for access to information held by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage relating to:

  • Details of the list of Members and Chair of the Inter-Departmental Steering Group for the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan
  • Dates of meetings of the Inter-Departmental Steering Group from 01/01/2021-08/02/2022
  • Agendas and minutes of the Inter-Departmental Steering Group from 01/01/2021-08/02/2022

Summary of Decision

I made a decision on your request on 15th February 2022. I have identified 2 records that relates to your request. I have decided that you should be granted access in full to this record and I attach a numbered copy. In the case of the remaining parts of your request, the dates of the meetings are set out in the summary of records. With respect to the request for agendas and minutes of the IDSG meetings in 2021, only one relevant record exists- please see the summary of records for further detail.  

Schedule of records

I have attached a schedule of records with this letter. This lists the records that I consider relevant to your request. It provides a brief description of each record and the decision I have made on each record. 

Charges

In accordance with Article 15 of the AIE Regulations, I propose to charge a fee of €20. This fee is calculated as a search and retrieval fee of €20 per hour for one hour. This fee is charged in accordance with the schedule of fees listed on the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage’s website at: https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation-information/b1ba08-access-to-information-on-the-environment/.  

This fee should be forwarded to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage by cheque, bank draft or order payable to The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage or alternatively by depositing the relevant amount to the Department of the Housing, Local Government and Heritage’s account using the details provided in the table below. 

Please ensure you quote the FOI request number (AIE-012-2022) when making any such EFT payment. You should forward a copy of your transfer receipt to the AIE Unit at AIE@housing.gov.ie quoting the above reference number also. 

Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Designation of lands as Special Protection Areas for the conservation of breeding Hen Harriers

October 2015

This Report aims to clarify the purpose and workings of the Hen Harrier Special Protection Area (SPA) designations, to identify the problems relating to their management and to recommend a number of possible solutions.

WINDHARRIER: Interactions between Hen Harriers and wind turbines

Duration: 2012 – 2014


Background:
The Hen Harrier is an Annex 1 listed species afforded protection under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that is found sparsely distributed across ireland. Researchers at University College Cork have examining the relationship between Hen Harriers and land-use change since 2000. This study on Hen Harriers and wind farms was focused on expanding the knowledge base on Hen Harrier ecology and windfarm interactions in an Irish context, to provide evidence based data for policy makers, industry and other stakeholders. The 30 month study was undertaken at University College Cork School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Science under the leadership of Professor John O’Halloran.


Project Objectives:
The aim of this project was to provide scientific support for strategic planning for the development of the wind energy sector in an environmentally sustainable manner, while ensuring the conservation interests of the Hen Harrier are protected. Members of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) the national association for the wind industry in Ireland provided financial support for this study.

Project Findings:
The primary conflict between wind energy development and Hen Harrier conservation is the large spatial overlap between these competing resources. Of the 69 survey squares across Ireland where breeding Hen Harriers were recorded in 2010, this study found that 28% of squares coincided with one or more wind energy developments by 2012. A weak negative relationship was identified between wind farm presence and the observed change in the number of breeding Hen Harrier pairs in survey squares between 2000 and 2010. However, the available evidence suggests that this was not a causative relationship.

Prey availability is an important factor in mediating the effects of land use change on Hen Harrier populations and, in this study, densities of small birds on which Hen Harrier prey were lower at wind farm study sites than at control sites and lower closer to turbines (within 100m) at wind farm study sites than further away. The particular species of bird that were impacted by wind farm development was dependent on the existing habitat at the site and the extent of the area affected by modifications related to wind farm construction.

The impacts of land use change are often mediated through impacts on foraging success, which was investigated during this study using novel GPS tags combined with traditional vantage point watches. The findings highlight the importance for Hen Harriers of open habitats suitable for foraging and the selection of foraging habitats by Hen Harriers differed between wind farm and control study sites. Although the availability of open and young forested habitats was similar at all study sites, the use of forested areas was lower around wind farms relative to control study sites.

Impacts of wind farms on either prey availability or hunting efficiency may ultimately impact on birds through effects breeding success and so this study also examined the breeding performance of Hen Harrier pairs in Ireland in relation to wind energy development. Three measures of breeding performance (nest success, fledged brood size and productivity) were used and no statistically significant relationships with distance to wind turbines were found. However, lower nest success rates were recorded within 1km of turbines which, although not statistically significantly different to nest success rates further away from turbines, may be of biological relevance and cannot be ignored. Where nests within 1km of wind turbines were successful, their fledged brood sizes were not different from those nests further away from turbines.

Birds are at risk of collision with wind turbines only when their flight path overlaps with the rotor blade sweep area of a wind turbine and in the current study, adult Hen Harriers were seen to spend 12% of their flight time at wind farms at turbine rotor sweep height and this did not differ between wind farm and control sites. The amount of time spent flying at this height by newly fledged Hen Harriers close to the nest was negligible (<1%). Using conservative estimates, collision risk analysis revealed that, over the life time of a typical wind farm in Ireland (25 years), the number of Hen Harrier deaths resulting from collisions with wind turbines is estimated to be in the range of 0.8 to 2.5 birds. These findings demonstrate that Hen Harriers are at low risk of collision with wind farm infrastructure as a result of their typically low flight height and known avoidance behaviour.

This study makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge on the interaction between wind farm development and Hen Harriers in Ireland and provides high quality scientific evidence to support the formulation of policy and practice. This is the first study of this kind in Ireland and further investigations will be required, when further data become available, to understand more fully the effects involved.

Publications: 

  • Fernández-Bellon, D., Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S. and O’Halloran, J. 2018. Effects of development of wind energy and associated changes in land use on bird densities in upland areas. Conservation Biology, 33(2): 413-422. ConservationBiology2018
  • Wilson, M.W., Fernández-Bellon, D., Irwin, S. and O’Halloran, J. 2016.  Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus population trends in relation to wind farms. Bird Study, 64:20-29. Wilsonetal2016
  • Fernández-Bellon, D., Irwin, S., Wilson, M.W. and O’Halloran, J. 2015. Reproductive output of Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus in relation to wind turbine proximity. Irish Birds, 10: 145-150. FernandezBellon2015

Final Project Report: 

For further information on this project please contact Prof. John O’Halloran.

Hen Harrier Conservation and the Forestry Sector in Ireland

31/3/2015

Author: D Tierney

This report specifically examines the interactions between the forestry sector and Hen Harrier conservation in Ireland.

The purpose of this report is to inform the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP) with a view to integrate the forestry related findings with those from other relevant sectoral pressures, e.g. agriculture and wind farm development, in order to prescribe a collaborative way forward for the conservation of this species.

The 2015 National Survey of Breeding Hen Harrier in Ireland

Irish Wildlife Manuals No. 93

Ruddock, M., Mee, A., Lusby, J., Nagle, T., O’Neill, S. & O’Toole, L

The hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) is a protected raptor, listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive and as such, Member States are obligated to protect and conserve the species.

These obligations involves key actions to designate Natura 2000 sites, also known as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and also to undertake monitoring of hen harriers nationally, regionally and within the designated areas.

The fourth national survey of hen harriers in Ireland was undertaken in 2015 and was preceded by surveys in 2010; 2005 and 1998-2000.

Similar to previous surveys the aims were to quantify the size and distribution of the breeding population and examine changes since the previous national surveys.

The survey effort and participation increased since 2010 with more than 7000 hours observational effort undertaken by 259 fieldworkers, largely via volunteer networks.

THREAT RESPONSE PLAN FOR THE HEN HARRIER 2021-2025 – Draft for Consultative Committee

June 2021

Author: Evelyn Kirwan

Prepared by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in consultation with The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications

The potential threats to breeding Hen Harrier that are considered to be of most significance relate to forestry, agriculture and wind energy development, as identified through the consultation process.

Q: is there a specific consultation document on forestry and/or agriculture, in a similar format to the “Hen Harrier Conservation and the Wind Energy Sector in Ireland” document? Note: Hen Harrier SPAs include commercial coniferous forest plantations (more than 50% by area).

Table 1. List of factors considered to be acting as pressures and/or threats (of H=high; M=medium; L=low importance) to breeding and wintering Hen Harrier populations in Ireland. This information has been compiled from recent assessments for Hen Harrier, as reported by Ireland under Article 12 of the Birds Directive (2019). Please note for ‘Season’ below, B = Breeding and W = Wintering.

N.B. The number of factors which could be reported out on was capped at ten. Therefore, only those factors considered to be the highest ranking for each season are listed below

Hen Harrier Conservation and the Wind Energy Sector in Ireland

June 2021

Citation: NPWS, (2021). Hen Harrier Conservation and the Wind Energy Sector in Ireland. Supporting document to the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The first draft of this report was commissioned by NPWS (now of the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government) to inform the development of the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan (HHTRP) and was prepared by Marc Ruddock.

Information on the distribution and characteristics of turbines installed in Ireland up to June 2016 was analysed for the purposes of this report; meanwhile, policy changes and developments up to the time of publication (early 2021) were detailed. Due to the time required to finalise the HHTRP, these final additions and updates were made to the report by NPWS.


Members of the HHTRP Interdepartmental Steering Group and Consultative Committee were also consulted on earlier drafts and their comments taken into consideration.

AIE. Hen Harrier Committee and Steering Group 7/2/22

Under the AIE Regs to request

Details of the list of Members and Chair of the Consultative Committee for the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan

Details of the list of Members and Chair of the Inter-Departmental Steering Group for the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan

Dates of meetings of the Consultative Committee and the Inter-Departmental Steering Group (2021 to present)

Agendas and minutes of the above meetings for 2021 to present