Tuesday 10 June 2014

Misleading article in Irish Farmers Journal heaps further bad press on Hen Harriers

This blog was established to educate and to increase awareness of Hen Harriers in Ireland, their ecology, their uniqueness and the factors influencing their conservation, given the population has experienced significant declines and harriers continue to be lost as a sight from our landscape. The politics involving various people has not been entered. However, an article by Forestry Editor Donal Magner in this week's Irish Farmer's Journal, infringes greatly on educating people as to the reality of Hen Harrier conservation and ecology in Ireland and needs to be addressed. Mr. Magner has written a number of such articles through the years, with all his articles promoting great benefits to Hen Harriers from commercial forestry, when the reality is clearly the opposite.

This time, Mr. Magner is giving out about the fact that tax payers money is no longer being used to grant aid the afforestation of what open land remains in Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas (which are already at saturation point or beyond in terms of forest cover). Mr. Magner refers to this land as 'suitable forestry land', apparently ignoring the fact that it is High Nature Value land, without which we as an Irish people would lose even more of our native flora and fauna - as has been the case over the past number of decades when the same type of land has been drained and planted with Sitka Spruce and other non-native commercial plantations.

The Irish Farmers Journal article points to a line on a guidebook to birds in Ireland, published over 30 years ago in 1981, and takes from this that forestry is the saviour of Hen Harriers and there should be more of it. He says forestry is "long regarded as the greatest land use to conserve the hen harrier". According to Mr. Magner, the forest plantations (which are home to high densities of hooded crows, magpies, fox and pine marten) provided refuge from predators! Mr. Magner infers that had land remained open and had not been planted, the Hen Harrier would have become extinct in Ireland. Harriers are a bird of open country but perhaps Mr. Magner (a forestry consultant) knows their ecology and evolution better than Robert Simmons who wrote the book "Harriers of the World" or the late great Donald Watson (author of "The Hen Harrier", who wrote about the destruction of Hen Harrier habitat by forestry. Numerous peer-reviewed and published scientific papers, research theses and books outlining the clear negative impacts of forestry on upland birds like Hen Harriers are ignored in order to carry the point that Mr. Magner wishes to convey from the outset. This is misleading to readers who might not be otherwise informed.

It would be interesting to know Mr. Magner's thoughts on why the Hen Harrier population has crashed from 250-300 pairs in the 1970s (Watson, 1977, The Hen Harrier, Poyser Monograph) to just 128 pairs in 2010 (Ruddock et al., 2012, Irish Birds) - seeing as forestry, being the 'saviour' of Hen Harriers in Ireland has increased greatly in the same time...being planted on the habitat that Hen Harriers and various other now red listed species depend on.

Should anyone have any observations on the article in question, the editor of the Irish Farmer's Journal is Justin McCarthy - jmccarthy@farmersjournal.ie

In addition to Mr. Magner's unbalanced pieces, the editor has previously published letters from foresters advocating the benefits of commercial forestry to Hen Harriers and general bad press about the conservation of the Hen Harrier. It would be interesting to see if he is willing to present any alternative views.

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