February, 2013


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.
  • Betty's Story - on BBC iPlayer

    If any of you didn't manage to catch it last night or happen to live outside the region, you can now watch Jude Lane talk about the tragedy of Bowland Betty and the issues facing hen harriers in England on Inside Out North East & Cumbria on BBC iPlayer! It's only 8 minutes long but it does a fantastic job of encapsulating the issue, with beautiful hen harrier footage and relevant interviews from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Moorland Association, Natural England, the Northern England Raptor Forum and a local gamekeeper.

    Have a look at it and forward the link on - I challenge anyone to watch it and not be moved by the beauty of these birds and the tragedy of their plight. It will only be up for the next week so don't miss it!

    On a side note, to see nest camera footage of Bowland Betty and her siblings, just check out the Skydancer home page at www.rspb.org.uk/skydancer for the video "At home with a hen harrier family".

  • Hen harriers inside out

    As you’ll remember, back in December, the tragic story of Betty the Bowland hen harrier hit the local and national news. I wrote at the time that I saw Betty as a symbol of hope for harriers, that her death would hopefully help raise the profile of this incredible species and the critical situation it finds itself in. So, it was with great excitement that I heard about another opportunity to publicise the issue which came about after a chance reading of this blog!

    On a particularly cold, yet beautiful day back in the beginning of February I was excused from my office duties and spent the best part of the day on the hill with my colleague Tim Melling, the RSPB’s Species Protection Officer and Stephen Murphy from Natural England, filming for the BBC One current affairs programme Inside Out.

    Filming on United Utilities Bowland estate © Tim Melling, RSPB

    The show covers a huge variety of stories from the local area so this is a really great opportunity to bring hen harriers into the homes of many thousands of people, the majority of which have probably never been lucky enough to set foot on a moorland let alone heard of or seen a hen harrier.

    Having had no prior experience of ‘media work’ the filming was all quite nerve wracking but with a friendly crew and encouraging words from Tim and Stephen (the pro’s!) it ended up being quite a fun experience – all be it a cold one!

    The other contributors to the programme will be representatives from the Moorland Association and the Northern England Raptor Forum.  

    So here’s the plug, if you’re interested to see the piece then tune into BBC One’s Inside Out North East and Cumbria on Monday night at 7.30pm. If you don’t live in the region then you can watch it on the BBC iPLAYER.

    © Tim Melling, RSPB

  • Hen harrier forensics

    Science and technology play an integral part these days in allowing us to learn more about our native wildlife and in the fight against wildlife crime. The satellite transmitter fitted to ‘our Betty’ as a young chick, is a fantastic example of this. In the first instance we learnt a huge amount about how mobile harriers can be but it also allowed us to recover her body and discover the cause of her death.  

    A number of monitoring methods are currently being used by scientists and conservationists to learn about the dispersal and survival of hen harriers including radio transmitters, wing tags and leg rings. There are pros and cons for all these methods but what they all have in common is they require the external ‘marking’ of the birds and therefore varying amounts of physical intervention.

    DNA tags are potentially a way of monitoring harriers without any physical intervention and could prove an important forensic tool in cases of illegal persecution.

    Scientists at the University of Central Lancashire have been working on a method of sexing hen harriers using DNA samples. The recently published research by Henderson et al. has established a way in which the sex of a hen harrier can be identified from a sample of DNA even if it is of poor quality or only available in small amounts, as would often be the case if the body was in a heavily decomposed state. 

    If you’re interested you can find a link to the abstract here.

    The teams' research isn't ending there however. The ability to sex a bird from its DNA is an integral first step in developing the capability to identify individual birds. The team at UCLAN are now working on this next objective which will hopefully prove a useful tool to both conservationists and those investigating wildlife crimes.