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Some of our harriers are missing

The hunt is on for Bowland`s birds of prey

Have you seen our hen harriers? The hunt is on this Christmas to track down one of England`s rarest breeding birds. Staff working on the RSPB Birds of Bowland project are asking people out enjoying themselves in the countryside over the Christmas and New Year period to keep their eyes peeled for hen harriers born and bred in the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire. Any sightings will help provide important information on where hen harriers go over the winter and how well they survive.Both the RSPB and English Nature monitor the small and seriously endangered English breeding population in Lancashire. As part of this work, David Sowter, an experienced local raptor enthusiast, is carrying out research into their movements and survival rates. He has been fitting young birds with coloured wing-tags on both wings, with an identification number or letter on each tag so individual birds can be recognised. David said: Since 1998 we`ve received many reports of these wing-tagged birds during the winter period. The main concentrations appear to be in upland areas of northern England and coastal areas of Lancashire, East Anglia and the South East. However, we`ve also had sightings from the Midlands, Wales and the Isle of Wight.Peter Wilson, the RSPB`s Bowland project officer, added: While people are out in the countryside during the festive period, perhaps trying out their new binoculars, I`d ask them to keep an eye open for hen harriers. If people do see one, they should have a close look at the wings, and if there are coloured tags on them to note the colour of each one, and if they can, the number or letter. Even sightings where only one wing tag is seen are useful.

Wing-tagging of young hen harriers first started in 1998 in the core English breeding area ? Lancashire`s Forest of Bowland. The RSPB has worked with landowners United Utilities for many decades to monitor this population. Despite this the English hen harrier population has still been declining, so in 2002 English Nature launched a Hen Harrier Recovery Project.Richard Saunders, English Nature`s project officer, said: The fate of any young birds remains a mystery once they leave the nest, unless dispersal of the fledglings can be monitored. For this reason, we have fitted radio-transmitters to fledglings at every English nesting site. Amazingly, young harriers have been radio-tracked across large distances, moving between breeding areas. Somehow, these juvenile birds have located the few other remaining English nesting sites. Radio-tracking is the best way to stay in touch with a wandering harrier; however the use of wing-tags allows anybody fortunate enough to spot a marked bird, to contribute to the conservation of this magnificent raptor.

There were only 22 hen harrier nesting attempts in England this year. Of these, only eight were successful, resulting in the fledging of 26 young - 10 of which came from nests monitored by the RSPB on the United Utilities Bowland estate. Reports of sightings, together with information about the wing-tags, date of sightings, location and habitat, should be made to David Sowter by ringing: 01772 749220 or 07957 265797 or email: davidsowter@freenet.co.uk

For more information, contact Margaret Overend, RSPB public affairs officer,on 01484 861148 (until December 24) or 0780 3120631

United Utilities, English Nature, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Ribble Valley Borough Council support the RSPB Birds of Bowland project.

For more information about hen harriers in England or the Hen Harrier Recovery Project, contact Richard Saunders on 01539 792800 or email: Richard.saunders@english-nature.org.uk

4th July 2014