Action needed to address the decline of iconic bird of prey - Muir

Date published: 08 April 2024

The restoration of nesting and foraging habitats is essential if we are to reverse the decline of one of our rarest birds of prey, DAERA Minister Andrew Muir has warned.

His comments come after a new DAERA part-funded survey reveals the Hen Harrier, a priority species in Northern Ireland, has declined by more than 26 per cent since 2016.

Minister Muir said: “I am concerned with the findings from the 2023 UK Hen Harrier survey that we have a declining population in Northern Ireland with a decrease from 46 pairs to 34 pairs, since the last national census in 2016. Factors in the decline of this raptor have been well documented and include the loss of suitable breeding habitats, habitat degradation, the climate, predation and wildfires.

“Action needs to be taken to stop the decline of this iconic bird, but it can only be achieved through working in partnership with landowners, farmers, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and all other stakeholders, to restore and enhance breeding habitats and appropriately manage activities which have the potential to cause disturbance and displacement.”

Hen Harriers predominately breed in heather moorland and young coniferous forest plantations during their breeding season. Their prey includes small bird species such as Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. The Northern Ireland decline almost mirrors a decline of one third (33 percent) in the Republic of Ireland Hen Harrier population from 2015 to 2022.

DAERA has listed the species as one of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity here and has designated two Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the EU Birds Directive to protect the Hen Harrier during its breeding season.

Minister Muir said he recognised the important work of the UK-wide survey which was organised by the RSPB at a national level and locally by the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG).

“While the overall picture is not encouraging, I am pleased the survey showed that the number of Hen Harriers within the two designated Special Protection Areas, approximately half of the population, remained relatively stable since the 2016 census,” the Minister continued.

“My thanks go to all the voluntary fieldworkers and staff from NIRSG, RSPB, NIEA and other organisations, who took part in the survey so that we had excellent coverage of the Hen Harrier breeding range in Northern Ireland.

“I am pleased to learn that the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group has convened a Hen Harrier Working group which will now consider measures to address the pressures, activities and threats identified during the survey.

“The pressures, activities and threats you identified during the survey will now be considered by Hen Harrier Working Group which will work to protect, preserve and enhance the population status of the Hen Harrier and all associated flora and fauna,” Minister Muir concluded.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The survey results indicate that the UK population of Hen Harriers increased between the national censuses of 2016 and 2023. The Northern Ireland population was the only one to show a decline.
  2. The UK survey was organised by the RSPB, with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) organising it in Northern Ireland.
  3. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is one of the largest nature conservation charities in the UK.
  4. The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group is a network of voluntary raptor fieldworkers who monitor and record the fortunes of birds of prey across Northern Ireland.
  5. Follow DAERA on X formerly called Twitter and Facebook.
  6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office: or telephone: 028 9016 3460.
  7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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