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A record-breaking year for hen harrier breeding

[Hen Harrier chicks on a grouse moor. Credit: Stephen Murphy]

Despite what people like Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay and the rich BBC Celebrity Influencer, Chris Packham would have you believe, Natural England has just recorded the best year for hen harrier breeding in England since 2002 after collective effort across the country from the grouse moor industry, Natural England and other conservation partners.

The hugely successful brood management project led to 60 chicks fledged from 19 nests across Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire in early summer 2020.

Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England, said: “2020 has seen the best breeding season for England’s hen harriers in years and I thank all those who’ve helped achieve this wonderful result, including landowners and managers, campaigners, conservation groups, police officers and our own Natural England staff and volunteers."

This year’s success means that 141 hen harrier chicks have fledged over the past three years alone. Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was established in 2002 to monitor hen harriers and work towards improving their numbers in England.

Hen Harriers are endangered in the UK due to a number of factors, including wind farms, suitability of local habitats, food availability and historic persecution.

[Grouse moors and nature volunteers working together]

Dr Adam Smith of the GWCT said: “This is a very promising result for a pragmatic conservation project. Management options for bird of prey conservation rather than just legal enforcement is very forward thinking approach. The GWCT has studied the very real tension between harrier conservation and grouse shooting for over 30 years. Until this managed approach was adopted - at no small risk to the reputations of all involved - there was a damaging deadlock. If this trend can be maintained and hen harrier conservation status further improved, whilst supporting the red grouse management that best delivers our unique heather uplands, it will be a real breakthrough for practical, working conservation.”

[Hen Harrier chick on grouse moor]

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, added: “Yet again, it has been a fantastic year for hen harriers and we have now seen significant increases in successful nests and chick numbers for three years running as part of the hen harrier Recovery Plan which includes the innovative Brood Management Scheme trial.

“Twelve of the nests reported today are on land managed for grouse shooting and this reflects a genuine commitment from moor owners and managers to work with others and help rebuild the harrier population.”

Hen harriers lay 4-6 eggs during late April–May, with incubation lasting 30 days. Hen harrier chicks then fledge in 28-32 days. Both females and males attend the young, with the males providing food which is often passed mid-air to the female in a distinctive display of ‘throw and catch’.

A high proportion of this year’s chicks have been fitted with satellite tags, which will allow Natural England to monitor the progress of the birds as they move away from their nest areas.


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