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Hen Harriers Holding On

2003 breeding season figures for England just published?

English Nature published the 2003 breeding figures for the endangered hen harrier today. The facts show that this rare bird of prey is still holding on in its traditional English strongholds despite a number of setbacks earlier in the spring. There were 22 nesting attempts in England this year involving at least 18 territorial females. From these attempts, there were 8 successful nests which resulted in 26 fledged young. There were 14 failed breeding attempts some caused by natural factors, such as poor weather or predation, which appeared to account for the loss of five nests. However, three nests were burnt out as the result of moorland fires in April and six nests were lost under circumstances suggesting illegal persecution. This compares well to last year as, in 2002, there were 7 successful nests that fledged 22 young. [In a highly unusual incident, several young hen harriers fitted with radio transmitters at a nest in Southern Scotland were found dead at a peregrine`s nest in northern England. These birds, together with the single English hen harrier also killed by a peregrine, are amongst the only examples in the UK where this kind of predation has been recorded.]These breeding data were gathered by field staff as part of English Nature`s Hen Harrier Recovery Project which is now in its second year. The project aims to establish the reasons for the low population of hen harriers in England through monitoring the birds and their nests. Radio tracking is being used to follow birds across the English uplands and is producing some interesting results. Young birds have already been recorded moving between the Bowland Fells, the North Yorkshire Moors, the North Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales, often travelling large distances every day. The tracking also showed that a peregrine falcon took a juvenile hen harrier fledged from one of the eight successful English nests. It is hoped that the surviving birds can be tracked back to their moorland breeding sites next spring. Richard Saunders, the hen harrier recovery project officer said, Despite its extreme rarity in England, conserving the hen harrier remains unpopular with some people and it is unfortunately still a target for persecution. However, on behalf of English Nature I would like to extend our thanks to the owners and gamekeepers of grouse moors where we have received support and to the Moorland Association, Game Conservancy Trust and RSPB for their continued co-operation and assistance. The three-year project is considering, in the light of the data gathered so far, the options for the future conservation of this magnificent bird of prey. The project will report to English Nature`s Council with its conclusions and recommendations.Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of English Nature said, The hen harrier continues to hang on in low numbers at the brink of extinction in England. Given the adversities this magnificent bird has to contend with, both natural and man-made, it is truly remarkable that it survives at all.The hen harrier was once a fairly common and widespread bird in Britain and there are breeding records from many English counties from the early 19th Century. Numbers declined mainly as a result of persecution by those seeking to protect poultry or game birds. By the end of the 19th century only a small population of birds survived in the Hebrides in western Scotland and on Orkney. After the Second World War, the hen harrier started to make a comeback, probably due to a reduction in the number of active gamekeepers and a corresponding drop in the intensity of the persecution. Northern England was re-colonised in the mid-1960s and in the 1970s and 1980s up to 25 nesting attempts were made in each year in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. The population has not increased further and from the mid 1990s there has been a significant downturn in fortunes. Hen harriers arrive back on their breeding grounds in March and April. The males indulge in spectacular, aerobatic display flights to attract females. The hen harrier has a strong association with heather in England and nests are almost always sited so that the surrounding heather bushes provide cover and protection. A clutch of 4-6 eggs is laid, in April or May, and incubated mainly by the female for about 30 days. The chicks then spend a further 30-40 days in the nest before making their first flight. Hen harriers feed on both young and adult grouse and as a result, the bird is unpopular with grouse moor owners and game keepers. Studies in Scotland have confirmed that in certain situations, high densities of breeding hen harriers can limit red grouse populations and reduce the number of birds available for shooting.For more information contact: English Nature`s National Press Office 01733 455190 out-of-hours 07970 098005 email press@english-nature.org.uk or visit their website at http://www.english-nature.org.uk For more information about the Hen Harrier Recovery Project contact Richard Saunders, Hen Harrier Recovery Project Officer - 01539 792800. Richard would be particularly interested to hear about any sightings of wing-tagged birds.

4th July 2014