Three prominent organizations in Ireland, namely BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce, and the Environmental Pillar, have come together to launch the ‘Save the Skydancer’ campaign. The campaign aims to combat the decline of the hen harrier population in the country. A recent survey revealed that the number of breeding pairs has dropped to 85 to 106, representing a significant decline of one-third (33%) since the previous survey conducted in 2015, which recorded 108-157 pairs. BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce, and the Environmental Pillar have warned that urgent action is necessary to prevent the hen harrier, also known as the skydancer, from disappearing from Irish skies within the next 25 years.
In response to the declining population, Minister for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, launched a public consultation on the draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan in January. The Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage has stated that the hen harrier typically forages in areas rich in prey, such as grasslands and winter stubble, and primarily feeds on medium-sized and small birds, as well as small mammals. The public consultation period for the plan will last until 5 p.m. on February 20, 2024, allowing members of the public to express their opinions and contribute to the future of the skydancer. Once finalized, the plan will be effective from 2024 to 2028. The current draft plan focuses on actions primarily aimed at the agricultural, forestry, and wind energy development sectors, aiming to minimize and reverse the pressure these sectors exert on the declining hen harrier species.
However, BirdWatch Ireland, An Taisce, and the Environmental Pillar are urging individuals from all counties to participate in the public consultation by submitting their views on the draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan. They emphasize the importance of letting the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) know that the preservation of the hen harrier is a priority. These organizations view this consultation as the last real opportunity to save the species from extinction. They firmly believe that the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan must be ambitious and fit-for-purpose, with a focus on three core objectives: protecting all nationally important hen harrier breeding and wintering grounds from afforestation, forest management activities, wind energy development, and other pressures; restoring habitat across all nationally important breeding and wintering sites through clear restoration targets and timelines; and ensuring long-term support for farmers through well-funded results-based schemes across all nationally important breeding and wintering grounds.