I don't know about you, but for me the brief glimpse of summer we had this weekend came as a seriously welcome respite from the seemingly never-ending winter! Just last week, the children of Haltwhistle Lower Community Campus had to deal with four seasons in one day including icy winds and actual hail and sleet up on the moors at Geltsdale.
Despite the cold, the sun did manage to break through the clouds for brief periods and we had great fun hunting for different kinds of moss in amongst the heather...
The children created their own mini-moorlands to take home...
...listened out for curlews, cuckoos, red grouse, and meadow pipits...
...discovered camouflaged hen harriers in the heather...
...and took turns hiding themselves like nesting hen harriers in the heather!
In fact weather aside, the only thing that could have made it better would have been the sight of an actual hen harrier gliding over the moors.
I saw lots of hailstones on the fell yesterday but not many harriers. No harriers in fact. In fact I’ve not seen a harrier all year.
Now I should point out that I am not on the hill every day like Mick (Bowland Assistant Warden) but even Mick hasn't seen many. If this were a typical year (prior to 2012) I would be seeing harriers (plural) every time I go on the fell.
Sadly, as the weeks tick by we are having to face the ever increasing possibility that for a second successive year there will be no hen harriers breeding in the Forest of Bowland.
That said we are still receiving reports of single birds being seen so there is still chance of a pair settling somewhere and so we will continue to look.
Even so, I’m pretty unhappy about the situation. So are the rest of my team, my RSPB colleagues, my United Utilities colleagues and their shooting tenants. Regardless of whether we get a pair or two breeding in Bowland this year there is no escaping the fact that the Bowland population has essentially dropped off a cliff these last couple of years.
Can we blame the prolonged winter this year? Possibly. However the weather can only be suppressing breeding to this extent because ultimately the English population is so low – a result of illegal persecution (nationally).
Encouragingly it appears we are not the only ones unhappy with this situation. Someone living in (presumably) the AONB is also angry about this situation and has taken it upon themselves to publicise the demise of the Bowland hen harrier population to others living in and visiting the AONB.
Sadly this sign doesn’t depict the true situation, it needs updating (if the mystery sign painter is reading?) but it’s getting across the correct picture and it’s heartening to see that others feel as passionately as I and the organisation do about the plight of this rare and special creature.
It's Monday morning and I'm recovering from a fun, if slightly damp and muddy Sunday at Newton Rigg College's Countryside Day, near Penrith. There was plenty to see and do from all aspects of the countryside from den building to tractor rides, clay pigeon shooting to wildlife gardening, and I was there with an RSPB stall and my trusty hen harrier games and craft activities! A great opportunity to talk to a wide range of people, from students and families just out for the day, to wildfowlers, grouse moor owners, and college staff.
The Feed The Hen Harriers game never fails to attract attention...
The idea is to get the bean bags through the hen harrier's mouth while standing in the hoop... though there was a certain amount of cheating going on...!
A simple but effective moorland habitat display attracted attention and generated some good converations, while several new and interesting species were created through the build-a-bird activity!
After a successful day all round, I've also agreed to run some Skydancer workshops with the College's gamekeeping students in the autumn - something I'm really looking forward to! There are lots of events to come on the Skydancer roadshow so be sure to look out for for us! Next stops - Newcastle Green Festival and Glendale Children's Countryside Day...
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