Fears grow for future of hen harrier in NI as numbers decline since 2010
Hen harriers are on the decline in Northern Ireland, sparking fears for the survival of the bird of prey.
A survey reveals a rapid drop in numbers over recent years, with the species facing wipeout for a second time in the UK.
There are 46 breeding pairs left here, a fall of 22% since 2010 when there were 59 pairs.
Known for their majestic sky-dancing ritual, the graceful hen harrier is one of the most threatened birds of prey in these islands.
Historically, they were a much more widespread breeding species before they were driven to extinction in the UK during the 19th century. Despite its comeback, the species has remained rare, with a breeding population of fewer than 1,000 pairs, making it vulnerable to the effects of habitat loss, weather and illegal killing.
Richard Weyl, senior biodiversity officer for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: "The hen harrier is one of the small number of birds which receives the highest level of protection both here and in Europe. The recent decline in breeding numbers is of concern and DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) will seek to build on initiatives which will benefit the hen harrier."
Latest figures from the fifth national hen harrier survey show the bird's decline is happening nationwide.
Claire Barnett, conservation team leader for RSPB NI, said: "Unfortunately, we are being robbed of the chance to see these beautiful birds flourish. The reasons for the population changes are likely to be a combination of factors including change in habitat which may affect prey abundance, and opportunity for predators. There are also further risks to the population from persecution and the recent dramatic impact of the wild fires in our uplands." Dr Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group voiced his concerns.
"Despite the high level of survey coverage we are disappointed in the further hen harrier population decline observed since 2010," he said.