December, 2011


Get the latest news on our hen harrier conservation work, including the five-year Hen Harrier Life+ project.

Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers

Follow the efforts of RSPB staff during the breeding season, as they attempt to monitor and protect one of England's rarest breeding birds of prey - the hen harrier.
  • Birds of Bowland 2011

    Hot off the press! Click here to download the latest edition of the Birds of Bowland newsletter.

    It's full of news about the RSPB’s work in the Forest of Bowland during 2011, with contributions from myself, Gavin Thomas (Bowland Wader Project Officer), volunteers and local farmers.

    Happy reading!




  • What needs to be done?

    As I wrote last week, harriers are on the brink of extinction in England.

    The RSPB is appealing to the government to step up and do more for harriers. The revised England Biodiversity Strategy includes a commitment by Government to avoid any human induced extinctions of known threatened species by 2020. Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director has said: “this bird only has four steps before extinction and the Government has very little time to act to prevent breaking their promise.”

    The RSPB and Natural England are also appealing to grouse moor owners to support techniques being trialed to reduce predatory impacts on grouse from harriers. Diversionary feeding, effectively a bird table for harriers, has been trialed as part of a partnership demonstration project at Langholm Moor in the Scottish borders. The early results of this technique look promising, in the last four years, no grouse chicks have been taken into monitored harrier nests. Martin Harper said of the technique “We believe the potential for diversionary feeding will provide a lifeline for the recovery of the English hen harrier and a way for grouse moor managers to maximise the number of grouse.”

    We have got to do something, and urgently. To see this magnificent bird of prey, disappear from this country under our watch as a result of man’s actions, will be a national disgrace.

    If you haven’t already done so, please sign this epetition which is asking the English Government to introduce Vicarious Liability, something the Scottish Government has already done. This would result in employers being held legally accountable for the actions being taken by their employees. Once signed, please forward to all your friends and ask them to do the same.

    Thank you.


  • Four steps from extinction

    The RSPB has today released the 2011 breeding figures for hen harriers in England, confirming that the four pairs of harriers that fledged young on the United Utilities estate in Bowland were the only four pairs to successfully raise young in the whole country.

    This is believed to be the lowest population in England since they recolonised in the 1960’s after being wiped out in mainland Britain in the late nineteenth century. This extinction was caused as a result of their presence on upland moors being seen as a conflict with the ability to produce large numbers of grouse for upland shoots. Their recolonisation of mainland Britain coincided with the Second World War which left the majority of our uplands unmanaged. However, the last 20 years has seen the perilous decline of an already tiny English population, to the point where we find ourselves with harriers on the brink of extinction in England for a second time.

    How can this have been allowed to happen?

    • Hen harriers are classified as specially protected, receiving full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
    • There are two sites in England, the Forest of Bowland and the North Pennine Moors, which have been designated as Special Protection Areas due to their international importance for harriers – one of these has had no breeding harriers for 5 years.
    • The Hen harrier is also listed under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  This means that it is recognised by Government as one of the species that is of ‘principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity’.         It is a priority for conservation action.
    • Section 41(3) of the Act requires the Secretary of State to take steps to further the conservation of species on this list and promote others to do likewise. 

    Clearly if these measures were working and being acted on, we would be seeing an increasing population; as has already been calculated, there should be at least 320 pairs breeding in our English uplands. The measures are not working and as a result, the hen harrier is now the bird most likely to become extinct in England because of human pressure.

    In this day and age this is an incredibly sad state of affairs.

    Come back next week to find out what the RSPB is wanting to see done about this situation.