Hen harrier numbers continue to fall in Northern Ireland, with only 34 territorial pairs recorded in 2023 – a drop of over 26% since 2016.

The 2023 hen harrier survey in Northern Ireland was conducted in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Northern Ireland (RSPB NI), Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), and by a team of volunteers, to understand more about the numbers and distribution of this rare species.

A 2011 independent government report had previously estimated that there should be around 150 pairs of hen harriers breeding in Northern Ireland, with the 2023 survey finding being approximately just 20% of this potential breeding population.

According to the raptor study group, the hen harrier population in Northern Ireland is under immense pressure due to loss of suitable habitats as a result of land management activities and human-mediated threats.

The organisation said that “the population has been displaced and disturbed for too many decades – things need to change”.


The observations of the fieldworkers and the survey findings have shown that hen harriers and their habitats need greater protections and support to retain valuable and biodiverse scrub and heather habitats across the uplands.

Policy, support and wider awareness is needed to preserve and restore the landscape.

Although some population increases were recorded by the survey results in other parts of the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have both showed substantial declines since the last surveys.


Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland Andrew Muir said that he was concerned to learn of the declining population of hen harriers in Northern Ireland and appreciates there are several factors contributing to this, including 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, to restore and enhance breeding habitats and appropriately manage activities which have the potential to cause disturbance and displacement," he said.

The public has an important role to play in helping keep our birds of prey safe. If you notice a dead or injured bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, call the police on 101 or 999 if it is an emergency situation.

If you have information about anyone killing birds of prey which you wish to report anonymously, call the Crimestoppers Charity on 0800 555111.