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Fourth unexplained male hen harrier disappearance in Bowland

Last modified: 08 June 2015

Male hen harrier in flight carrying twigs

Image: Andy Hay

A fourth breeding male hen harrier has disappeared from Bowland, Lancashire, leading to the failure of yet another nest. 

Lancashire Police and the RSPB are appealing for any information about what happened to the upland bird of prey, which had an active nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. 

The last confirmed sighting of the male was on Friday 29 May when it was observed passing food to the female. RSPB staff continued to see the female near the nest but were concerned by the absence of the male bringing food. They visited the nest on Monday 1 June, and discovered that it had been abandoned and that the eggs were cold.    

This is the latest in a series of unexplained disappearances in the Bowland area, with three breeding males failing to return to their nests earlier in the season. 

And another goes missing in Cumbria

In another recent incident, Cumbria Constabulary are calling for information about a breeding male hen harrier that vanished from the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria on Saturday 23 May, resulting in failure of the nest.  

A 2008 government-commissioned report by Natural England found that it was very unusual for male hen harriers to abandon an active nest in most places. However, it also found that nearly 7 out of 10 of the nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors did so following the disappearance of an adult.

Hen harriers are England’s most threatened breeding bird of prey: last year there were only four successful nests in the whole country, two of which were on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. 

The RSPB has been working on the Untied Utilities estate for over 35 years, developing a strong partnership with the water company, together with the support of its farming and shooting tenants. 

Committed to rescuing hen harriers from the brink of extinction in England

Graham Jones, the RSPB’s conservation manager for the RSPB in North West England, said: 'All of the RSPB and United Utilities staff and volunteers who have been monitoring the hen harrier nests in Bowland are devastated by this latest disappearance, as are the estate’s shooting tenants.

'However, we are now more committed than ever to rescuing this beautiful bird from the brink of extinction in England.'  

Lorraine Ellwood, Lancashire Police Rural Policing and Wildlife Co-ordinator, said: 'We remain open-minded as to the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the male harriers, and are exploring all possibilities of both natural and criminal intent.'

Anyone with information about the missing bird should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or, alternatively, call the RSPB on 01767 693690.

  • As part of an EU LIFE+ funded project, the RSPB is fitting satellite tags to as many hen harrier chicks as possible, which will enable us to track their movements and monitor what happens to them.

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