Endangered birds of prey receive vital protection

An urgent conservation initiative is being spearheaded by The Golden Eagle Trust in Ireland to save the Hen Harrier, one of the country’s most endangered native bird species. By improving understanding of habitats, Esri’s ArcGIS is playing a key role in helping to safeguard this iconic bird of prey for future generations. 

A slim, long-tailed hawk, the Hen Harrier is in grave danger of becoming regionally extinct in Ireland, in the next thirty years, if nothing is done to protect and restore upland landscapes.  To thrive, the species needs a habitat consisting predominantly of open heath and acid grassland, so The Golden Eagle Trust used ArcGIS Desktop to analyse land cover types within six special protection areas (SPAs) designated as breeding areas for the Hen Harrier.  ArcGIS revealed that just 20.2% of the SPAs offered the birds’ preferred natural habitat, providing unequivocal evidence as to why the Hen Harrier is struggling to survive. 

Working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, The Golden Eagle Trust is now using its improved understanding of Hen Harrier habitats to help advise the Irish Government about the most cost effective and appropriate approaches to land management within the SPAs.  For instance, using ArcGIS, the Trust can identify specific areas of forest that could be removed to create passageways between known breeding areas and ideal food sources.  Through this targeted, evidence-led approach, it can ensure that conservation projects have the greatest benefit in terms of habitat restoration for the least cost. 

The Trust also depends on ArcGIS to help it consider the environmental impact of applications for agricultural land use change and new renewable energy development in SPAs.  The GIS habitat map gives it the critical insight it needs to balance the needs of local communities, landowners, developers and government bodies, while protecting the Hen Harrier and the precious natural landscapes that it depends upon.  

“ArcGIS holds the key to helping us halt the Hen Harrier decline through evidence-based decision making and effective land management.”

Ryan Wilson-Parr, Lead Ecologist, The Golden Eagle Trust