I’m afraid to be the bearer of extremely bad news regarding one of our rarest birds of prey.  I’ve just received confirmation that three male hen harriers have disappeared from active nests in the Forest of Bowland.

The disappearances have happened over the last three weeks. At one nest the male disappeared three weeks ago, with males at two other active nests not being seen since last Thursday.  Fortunately, a juvenile male appeared at the first nest almost immediately and was accepted by the female, so thankfully her eggs have been saved.  However, the other two nests have not been so lucky.  In the absence of males to provide them with food, the hungry females were forced to abandon their eggs or face starvation, resulting in the failure of both nests.

Andy Hay's image of a male hen harrier

All three of the nests affected are on the United Utilities Bowland Estate.  We have a fantastic relationship with the water company, United Utilities and their shooting and farming tenants, built up over decades of partnership working. The United Utilities estate has for many years been the hen harriers last stronghold in England.  I’m sure all of their staff and tenants will be as saddened as RSPB’s staff on the ground and I am disheartened by this news.

Male hen harriers disappearing while part of an active nesting attempt is exceptionally unusual in most habitats.  A 2008 Natural England report “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?”, found that it was almost never recorded in most habitats, while nearly 70% of nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors, did so because an adult disappeared (see figure 4 on page 14).  

Obviously it’s very early days and there will certainly be more to come on this case.  In the meantime, anyone who thinks they may have any information relevant to the disappearance of these three harriers should contact the local police.

What’s been happening to our hen harriers?

We mean to find out.

  • Rob - across England, we are hopefully for more successful nests.  You have, via twitter, referred to a fourth nest on Bowland.  My understanding is that this fourth pair was preparing to nest at the time of the disappearance of the three males.  So we are hopeful of two successful nests on Bowland.  Regarding other causes for the disappearance, I simply refer again to the NE research quoted in the blog.  Such disappearances, other than on grouse moors are exceptionally rare.

  • Martin. Could this please be updated. The location is, as you know, in the middle of land managed by a partnership of landowner, shooting tenant and raptor groups for the very purpose of encouraging harriers to dwell alongside grouse shooting.

    Notwithstanding the worst scenario of deliberate human persecution, some more reference to polygamous male harriers, dummy nests, eagle owls, accidental 'licensed' nest disturbance, foxes etc, might just help help inform the wider public as to other possible reasons.

    If only to prevent a tirade of extrapolated vitriolic hate against all gamekeepers and shooting interests.


  • The worst thing is wondering how quickly the chicks from the surviving eggs will last once they leave the nest.  It's not looking good, is it?  I would love to get my hands on the people responsible for these disappearances as I'm in no doubt what happened to these missing birds was not down to nature.

  • There should be cameras on all raptor nest sites

    linked to a police station and two one to follow each bird as well

    That shows good mileage then if gun Bastxards do kill a bird the police will track them down

    No Animal or Bird should come to any harm there should be no such a thing as game shooting helping pheasants and other birds breed is good but I know if I got anybody harming even a mouse the law would not come into it I would smash something over there head for it.

  • Martin,  This is appalling.   You would think that with all the publicity over the past year or two it would be in the interests of all to prevent this happening, whether from a conservation angle or simply to prove protection groups wrong.  I feel this may simply add to the proof that the fear expressed by protection groups is well founded.