In hopeful news, rare hen harrier chicks have hatched in four nests in Bowland.
RSPB staff and volunteers discovered the nests on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in early spring and have been monitoring them closely ever since. Recently, they observed a change in behaviour with the female birds bringing food taken from the males directly into their nests, indicating the presence of chicks.
Hen harriers are birds of prey that nest on hills and moors and are renowned for the male’s thrilling aerial courtship display known as skydancing.
Experts estimate there is enough habitat in Northern England for at least 300 pairs but last year there were only nine successful nests in the whole country, a third of which were on the Bowland Estate where land is managed under low intensity farming and shooting models.
The Forest of Bowland used to be known as England’s last remaining stronghold for breeding hen harriers. But last year was the first time they had nested since 2015.
Nature conservationists are now hoping that this positive step towards a second successful breeding season on the Bowland Estate indicates its re-establishment as a hen harrier stronghold.
The RSPB is working in close partnership with United Utilities and its tenants and the Forest of Bowland AONB to give the hen harriers the best chance to breed successfully and raise their chicks.
James Bray, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, said: “It’s great news that hen harriers are breeding on the Bowland Estate for the second consecutive year. We were delighted last season when birds successfully nested after two disappointing years but we were fearful it might have been a one-off as the population remains perilously low. This gives us some hope for the future. Last year, we saw 13 chicks fledge at Bowland; perhaps this year we might have even more.”
Elliott Lorimer from the Forest of Bowland AONB Partnership said: “we are absolutely delighted that there are hen harrier nests again this year on the UU Bowland Estate and have our fingers crossed for the newly hatched chicks”
RSPB and United Utilities ask that if you do plan to visit the area during the bird breeding season, please stay on the tracks and footpaths to avoid disturbance to ground nesting birds.
Hen harriers are rare as a breeding bird in England. A recent scientific paper using data supplied by Natural England concluded that hen harriers in England and southern Scotland suffer high levels of mortality during their first year of life and the most likely cause is illegal killing in areas associated with management for grouse shooting (72% of hen harriers tracked by this study*).
* Murgatroyd, M., Redpath S.M., Murphy S.G., Douglas D.J.T, Saunders R. & Amar A. (2019) Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors. Nature Communications 10:1094
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