Roisin Taylor, Community Engagement Officer for the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, talks about new nests, and the hope that they bring for the hen harrier population.

Following the exciting news yesterday that there are four nests at United Utilities Bowland Estate this summer, we are delighted to reveal that our partners at National Trust High Peak Moors have their very own rare hen harrier nest!

This is the second year that the National Trust’s High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park have been home to the nest of one of Britain’s most threatened birds.

“We’re delighted to learn of this nest” said Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District. “The hen harrier has been one of the most persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands. We hope this will be a positive model for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see”.

“It is critical the birds are now given the space and security to rear their young without the threat of disturbance or worse.” Jon continued, “The National Trust will be working with its partners such as the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, Natural England and tenants to give the birds the best chance of success. We also plan on working with the RSPB and the Hen Harrier LIFE project to fit satellite tags to the young so that we can monitor their movements and learn more to inform the conservation of this very special bird. There is a great sense from everyone closely involved that we want this to work not just for these birds now, but as a symbol for the whole future direction of our uplands.”

We are really excited to be involved again this year following last year’s successful breeding attempts that led to the satellite tagging of two young hen harriers as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project. Arthur and Octavia were two very special birds, signalling hope in an area renowned for persecution of our birds of prey.

Sadly, the satellite tags of both Arthur and Octavia, who had been raised on the High Peak Moors, stopped transmitting suddenly and in suspicious circumstances, shortly after leaving the National Trust land. Their tags have never been heard from since, and their bodies never found, so we’ll never know for sure what has happened to them. This follows a similar pattern for many of the UK’s satellite tagged hen harriers. According to a recent government study, 72% of tagged hen harriers were either confirmed as illegally killed or disappeared in circumstances in which illegal killing is the only plausible explanation*.

The population recovery of our hen harriers relies on partnerships like these. Working with the National Trust High Peak Moors and United Utilities at Bowland Estate allows us to provide the habitats and conditions for these birds to safely breed.

The summer months are a critical time for our hen harriers. News of successful nests brings hope, but also apprehension. We look forward to following these young skydancers on their journeys and hope that they do not follow in the similar wingbeat of Arthur and Octavia, but go on to become part of a steady breeding population for this magnificent bird.

* 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