Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland, Andrew Muir, stated that the restoration of nesting and foraging habitats is essential if the population of the "rare" hen harrier is set to increase.

He spoke on the issue following a new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) part-funded survey which revealed that the hen harrier, a “priority species” in Northern Ireland, declined by 26% since 2016.

Minister Muir said that he is concerned with the latest findings from the 2023 UK hen harrier survey that showed the decrease in population.

Many factors that caused this decline in population have been recorded and include loss of suitable breeding habitats, the climate, predation and wildfires, the minister said.

Minister Muir added:

“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, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).”

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 this rare bird during its breeding season.

Minister Muir 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).

The minster said that he was pleased that the hen harriers within the two designated SPAs remained “relatively” stable since the 2016 census.

The pressures, activities and threats identified throughout the survey will be considered by the Hen Harrier Working Group which works to protect, preserve and enhance the population of the hen harrier, Minister Muir said.