Ever wondered what it would be like to be involved in round the clock protection of a rare breeding bird? With just three pairs of hen harrier nesting in England this year (there should be well over 300) we are at a point where their nests are so precious they need to be monitored 24 hours a day.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it is like to be on the front line protecting England’s hen harriers.
Once again the one and a half star accommodation has been set up on the moor and I am back for a second season protecting England’s breeding hen harriers!
My love for the hen harrier started last year living high on the Northumberland moors. Often cold, wet, tired and driven bonkers by the onslaught of mighty midges that gradually emptied me of my much needed blood supply; I would see the hen harriers daily struggle for survival. Watching these stunning birds cope with the extremes of weather that the upland moor can bring made me not only appreciate my central heating when I got home, but also gave me a huge amount of respect for a bird of prey that at one time I knew nothing about.
So why have I come back for a second year? What it is like and who does a job like this?
Well the job is unlike any other! As I write I am sat in the cozy hide dressed like a Michelin man in 8 layers of clothing, supping a mug of hot chocolate and nibbling on a jammie dodger whilst looking out on a spectacular ever changing landscape. Its flora, fauna and weather systems are second to none, so in my view this is a bobby dazzler of a job!
From the first sounds of the moor in the morning, with willow warblers, whinchat and grouse calling out from the dew laden heather, to the loud cry of the stunning short-eared owl and the constant clicks of the grasshopper warbler announcing the arrival of night there's always something to listen to.
The view from the office window is second to none. We watch daily as the moor transforms from a rugged and lifeless, remote, windswept landscape, into a stunning panorama carpeted with flowering heather, bilberry and cotton grass. Even the night time reveals hidden secrets when our well lit hide transforms into a haven for shrews, voles, mice and winged creepy crawlies of the night that insist on landing on your face just as you take a sip of a well-earned brew!
The weather. Nothing to watch there you say, but oh by gum how wrong you would you be! We started this watch back in the rough but beautiful early spring with its hail and heavy rain that you could see rolling in over the hills and the stunning late night lightning shows when weather fronts collide. Now we’re into the early summer with its double rainbows and morning mist rolling through the valleys, creeping down the cloughs like spindly finders just before the hot sun makes an appearance and burns it away in minutes. That’s not even mentioning the sunsets and sunrises that change in colour and appearance on a daily basis. Bowland is truly a stunning place to be no matter what the weather.
For me this project is not only an enjoyable job but a growing passion. I believe the protection of this stunning bird of prey is vital not only to the ecology of the moor but also for the pleasure of lads and lasses that love to see wildlife at its best and in its rightful place.
I hope you enjoy our blogs, usually written on our phones or tatty bits of paper when the weather closes in. Don’t worry about us though, we can assure you the fire will always be on, the coffees will be in hand and the biscuits will be in plentiful supply!
As I sit overlooking one of the few hen harrier nests remaining in the country, I can’t help but muse over the events that could possibly bring together a deer stalker, a vegan, a businessman and a soldier (among many others) to sit, often shivering, through the moorland dusk's, nights & dawns awaiting the next invasion of midges whilst bubbling curlew calls roll over the heather and cotton grass. We do this just to wait for the sight of the light blue wings of the male hen harrier flying in to pass hard earned meals to his partner before we hand over to our replacements, satisfied that our nightly vigilance has paid off for another day.
The only response to such a line of thought is that, of course, regardless of our backgrounds or daily practices, the natural heritage and ecological community of England is a great gift to all of us and something we are proud to put our efforts into protecting. Raise your glasses to the future of the hen harrier!
We’ve just been shortlisted as a finalist in this year’s National Lottery Awards!
What an amazing honour to be just one of seven projects in the running for Best Education Project, selected from more than 750 applications. Winning would mean gaining national media attention for the plight of the hen harrier, as the award ceremony will be televised at primetime on BBC One in September! There's also a £2,000 prize which would go straight back into the project to help us do even more to raise awareness for hen harrier conservation.
We now need your help to win!
Vote for us by clicking on the link below and encourage your family and friends to do the same. You can also register your vote by calling 0844 8369682*. Voting closes on 23rd July.
*calls cost 5p from a BT landline, calls from mobiles will cost considerably more, always ask the bill-payers permission.
Since the project began in late 2011, the Skydancer team have delivered hen harrier talks to more than 2,000 people across Northern England and run assemblies, workshops, and field trips with more than 1,500 school pupils. We've also run workshops with over 100 gamekeeping and countryside management students and started over 800 conversations about hen harrier conservation at county shows and game fairs.
Level 3 Gamekeeping students at Askham Bryan College after a recent Skydancer workshop. (c) Brian Sweeney, 2014
Working with 320 children in 6 local schools in 2012, we created 320 white paper hen harriers as part of our Hen Harrier of Peace event after hen harrier failed to nest in the Forest of Bowland for the first time in several decades. (c) RSPB, 2012
Pupils from West Woodburn First School in Northumberland learning about moorland on a Skydancer field trip. (c) RSPB, 2014
Year 7 pupils at Bellingham Middle School take part in a Skydancer hen harrier debate. (c) RSPB, 2014
Pupils at Brennands Endowed Primary School, Slaidburn, show off their flapping hen harriers (c) RSPB 2014
A youth circus group, Circus Central, from Newcastle perform their original Skydancing Circus Show to an audience of 3,500 throughout the day, as part of a hen harrier day at The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland (c) RSPB, July 2013