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The importance of pre-thicket conifer plantations for nesting Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus in Ireland

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Abstract:

Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus are threatened across much of their range and their conservation requires appropriate habitat management. The locations of 148 Hen Harrier nests found in the Republic of Ireland during national breeding surveys in 2000 and 2005 were used to assess nest-site selection. The distribution of these nests was compared to distributions of randomly located points to investigate selection at the scale of the nest-site and landscape. The main nesting habitats selected were pre-thicket stage of first and, particularly, second rotation plantations, mostly of exotic conifers. There was no evidence that the area of post-closure plantations negatively affected Hen Harrier nest distribution. There was a positive correlation across study areas between changes in numbers of Hen Harrier nests between 2000 and 2005 and changes in the area of pre-thicket second rotation plantations over the same period. The overall effect of plantation forests on breeding Hen Harriers in Ireland therefore appears to be positive. However, this study did not consider the effects of plantation habitats on breeding success. Improved grassland was strongly avoided as a nesting habitat. Furthermore, after controlling for the influence of nesting habitat on nest location, landscapes with a high percentage cover of improved grassland were also avoided. Further agricultural intensification of grassland in areas where Hen Harriers breed is likely to have a negative impact on this species. These results are required for the development of management strategies for the conservation of this species.

Keywords: commercial forestry; conifer plantation; conservation; grassland; habitat selection; heath; raptors; second rotation; upland management

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.00918.x

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, University College Cork, Enterprise Centre, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, Ireland 2: National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, 7 Ely Place, Dublin 2, Ireland 3: BirdWatch Ireland, Rockingham House, Newcastle, Co. Wicklow, Ireland 4: Irish Raptor Study Group, Ballygambon, Lisronagh, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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