A new scientific publication by the MKO Research initiative is now available in the journal Bird Conservation International.

The study is the result of an international collaboration between MKO Research and University College Cork, BirdWatch Ireland, BirdLife Netherlands, and the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation.

Hen harriers are a species of conservation concern in Ireland and across much of Europe. In many of these areas, hen harriers overlap with short-eared owls. The two species have more in common than may be immediately apparent, as they both breed in open habitats, nest on the ground, and hunt small mammals and birds. Although substantial effort goes into studying both species across Europe, most work is carried out with a regional focus. This new study set out to assess Europe-wide patterns relevant to the conservation of both species.

By consulting 24 experts in nine different countries, information was collated on threats and conservation strategies for hen harrier and short-eared owl across their European breeding range. Although some threats are more specific to certain areas, habitat loss and degradation were found to be the main threat to both species across Europe (see the published article for a comprehensive rating of threats). When it came to conservation, experts reported that although designation of protected areas was the most commonly implemented strategy, this was considered to be less effective than actions like habitat or species management (e.g. habitat restoration, nest protection). These findings highlight the need for more proactive conservation strategies if these emblematic birds are to be saved.

Overall, this study underlines the potential for developing conservation strategies that can be beneficial for both species. Furthermore, it maps the road for Europe-wide conservation of these birds of prey through international collaborations. Dr. Darío Fernández-Bellon, Senior Researcher at MKO Research and lead author of the paper said “Hen harrier and short-eared owl populations across Europe are highly connected. Birds don’t care about political boundaries. Research and conservation efforts have to take a similar approach to be effective, and our study provides an important first step in this direction by highlighting how countries can learn from each other and work together to protect these species.”

The full paper is available in open access:

Fernández-Bellon, D., Lusby, J., Bos, J., Schaub, T., Mccarthy, A., Caravaggi, A., Irwin, S., O’Halloran, J. (2020). Expert knowledge assessment of threats and conservation strategies for breeding Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl across Europe. Bird Conservation International, 1-18. doi:10.1017/S0959270920000349

This study was also featured in the British Ornithologists’ Union blog.