Last week, I headed down to Bowland to meet the team involved in the LIFE project nest protection on the site. I was keen to meet them to hear their perspective on this season’s happenings.
Much of the Forest of Bowland is designated as a Special protection Area as the Bowland Fells SPA (European importance), and this is primarily for its breeding Hen Harriers, with a designation of 12 breeding pairs. However, in recent years successful breeding pairs have been way below this number, with 2 pairs in 2014, and none in 2012 and 2013.
Last season, two satellite tagged fledglings (Hope and Sky) also disappeared from Bowland after their tags failed to transmit . These tags are very reliable and it is high unlikely that this was due to technical difficulties, as this technology is considered very reliable.
This year, five healthy adult male hen harriers went missing in England resulting in the failure of the nests they were provisioning. Four of these males where from the Bowland from the United Utilities (UU) estate: this is extremely unusual and the reasons for their disappearances are yet to be explained and police continue to appeal for information.
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.
Although this year’s nests were being watched 24/7 by our team of dedicated volunteers, it is nigh on impossible to follow and protect males who travel far and wide to hunt from the nest, leaving the female to care for and protect the eggs/chicks at the nest site.
It’s sad to think that the loss of the 4 males at Bowland this year has resulted in the loss of so many potential hen harriers, indeed the team at Bowland were devastated by these disappearances, as were UU.
I really feel the urgency now to raise awareness of the plight of the hen harrier. Luckily, through the LIFE Project we are able to satellite tag and track birds, giving them protection away from their nest sites, which should help provide evidence if any tagged birds go missing.
Others feel the same! RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is bravely undertaking a bungee jump on the 8th August to help raise the profile of hen harriers. Please donate to her cause here: https://www.justgiving.com/Jennifer-Lane2/. Funds raised will go towards the RSPB’s work on hen harriers
High street cosmetics chain Lush is also getting involved. They campaigned in stores last year – and this year wants to follow it up in stores in the week of the Glorious Twelfth. Pop into your local store to find out more!
Finally you can also do something too! Hen Harrier Day is on Sunday 9th August and events are taking place across the UK, with the main event at the Goyt Valley in the Peak District. The more people we can get to come out to these events the better so we can gain more media coverage so people will take notice. Find out about your local event here: http://henharrierday.org/
See you there!
Bea Ayling (Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project Manager)
In June and July, a number of hen harrier chicks across England and Scotland were satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project.
The project seeks to better understand the movements of these magnificent birds to help identify areas where they are most at risk.. This need became particularly pertinent in the 2015 breeding season when 5 nests failed in northern England due to the well-publicised, unexplained disappearances of the healthy male adult birds.
As the new Project Manager (covering for Blánaid while she is off enjoying her own brood), I am on tenterhooks to see how the 2015 breeding season pans out having started the role smack bang in the middle. I am particularly excited about being able to track our birds online! A couple of the project’s satellite tagged birds will be made public here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/.
The latest tag went on a female chick on the Isle of Man, named Hetty. It’ll be fascinating to see where she disperses to for the winter as hen harriers are known to range far and wide. Maybe she will encounter some of our other tagged birds across the sea in England and Scotland! Maps of her movements should be available on the website in the next few weeks.
Hetty and her brother prior to ringing and tagging. Photo credit: John Hellowell
I really hope that allowing the public to follow our tagged birds’ helps raise awareness and understanding of hen harriers, encouraging recognition that hen harriers are an intrinsic part of the UK’s uplands, and that we’re all responsible for their protection.
On Saturday 8 August, RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is doing a bungee jump to raise money for hen harriers in Bowland. Here she explains why.
Ever since I heard about the plight of the hen harrier, I’ve been keen to do my bit. My day job for the RSPB is working as an administrator in our Lancaster office, however, every year we get the chance to volunteer for a day elsewhere in the organisation. In June I used this opportunity to take part in a hen harrier nest watch in Bowland. Following the disappearances of four males from active nests, I was protecting the last remaining one in the area.
Seeing the pair hunt against the hillside was a moving experience and I realised the full extent of what these birds are up against.
I decided I really wanted to raise the profile of this wonderful bird and what better way to do it than jumping 300ft through the air.
The RSPB is doing all it can to help the hen harrier breed successfully and thrive once again in the face of so many obstacles.
Please donate to my JustGiving page today and help save hen harriers from the brink of extinction.