Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers


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.
  • Touring Skydancer Road Show

    *Phew*! Between April and July is definitely the busy season for people engagement and I feel like I've hardly been in the office at all - no bad thing given the recent bout of sunshine! With the help of some fantastic volunteers, I've been out and about visiting schools, running moorland field trips and attending events and shows, spreading the word about hen harriers far and wide!

    So far this year, we've run assemblies, workshops and/or field trips with over 430 children in 8 schools and youth groups, debated the future of hen harriers in England with gamekeeping and countryside management students at Askham Bryan College and Myerscough College, taken the Skydancer Road Show to 5 big community events and county shows, and delivered 10 community talks to local interest groups... and there's plenty more to come!

    Look out for us at the West Cumbria Game Fair on the 13th & 14th July and watch this space for updates on something very exciting happening at the end of the month in Northumberland that you could get involved in...! In the meantime, a few pictorial highlights from the last month or so:

    Our Skydancer stall at Newcastle Green Festival...

    ...taking my hen harrier puppet for a skydance through the festival crowds... he certainly attracted attention!

    Making a whole flock of flapping hen harriers at Brennand's Endowed Primary School, Slaidburn, Forest of Bowland...

    Teaming up with RSPB Geltsdale at the Cumberland Show...

    Beautiful day out on the moors in Bowland with hen harrier fun and games...

     We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

  • Hen harriers in the media

    Running with the theme of positivity for 2013, if one were to try and find some sliver of good in the tragedy of Bowland Betty, it's that the circumstances of her untimely demise have finally brought the hen harrier issue to national attention. In the last week alone, there has been a strong article in The Observer and a BBC Radio4 piece featuring Martin Harper and Adrian Blackmore from the Countryside Alliance on Monday's Today programme. There are also feature articles on hen harriers in the January editions of both Lancashire Life magazine (they even made the cover) and the Shooting Gazette. Regional and local news stories about hen harriers are one thing but to get national media coverage like this is rare enough.

    We now have an opportunity here, you and I, to focus this attention and not let it slip away. We need to build on it and in doing so, connect the wider public with these beautiful birds and the moorland landscape in which they live. Tell the hen harrier story to your neighbour over the garden fence, or your friend next time you go for coffee. Point people to this blog, tell your friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter. Write to your local paper and let them know that this is important to you, to us all.

    Remember buzzardgate? Public outrage can be a powerful thing, and we should be outraged. That people (however many or few) are intentionally and illegally killing hen harriers or discouraging them from nesting is outrageous. However in the midst of this I ask you to please remember that not all people who shoot hate hen harriers, and not all people who want to see hen harriers protected are against grouse shooting. The two interests are not mutually exclusive. We don't need scaremongering or demonizing - these things are not helpful and indeed, they only set people against eachother and deepen the problem. This is an opportunity to get away from all that and to help people to really understand the issues. We all want a world richer in wildlife.

    We need to encourage everyone, whatever their background, to speak out in the name of hen harriers and send a clear message that these are our birds. They belong in our shared landscape. And illegal persecution will not be tolerated.

    This is our chance, and your voice matters.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

  • Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

    Jeff Knott is RSPB's Head of Nature Policy. Here he shares his own personal perspective on the decision to walk away from Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan. 

    It’s always disappointing when you invest a lot of your time and energy into something and it doesn’t work out as you’d hoped. Whether it’s work, sports or relationships; nothing stings quite as much as the disappointment of unfulfilled potential.

    The Hen Harrier Action Plan, created under Defra’s Upland Stakeholder Forum has been like that for me and has had a bit of all three. The potential of a positive opportunity. The misplaced optimism of an England football campaign. And ultimately the disappointing realisation that it’s just not working out.

    Four years. That is, to coin a technical phrase, a bloody long time! Four years ago we were gearing up for the London Olympics – seems an age ago doesn’t it?

    But four years is also how long discussions went on to try and hammer out an agreement that all parties could agree on and that most importantly, would deliver the recovery of hen harriers. I was the RSPB representative in most of those meetings. While discussion was often difficult and debate was usually forthright, it did feel like there was potential. Getting everyone – conservationists, shooters, landowners, the Government - around a table to try to agree on how to save England’s hen harriers (and only that) was always going to be challenging, but it was a prize worth fighting for. And that’s what kept me going through years of meetings.

    When the plan was published earlier this year, we welcomed it. Not because it was perfect – it wasn’t (but then I’d argue no compromise agreement ever is) – but because it represented the potential for progress. Unfortunately, that potential has proved to be as fleeting and as unfulfilled as that of Roy Hodgson’s men at Euro 2016.

    I’m not going to repeat the evidence for the lack of progress. For that, give Martin Harper’s excellent blog from last Monday a read. It is clear that the opportunity the action plan presented has not been grasped. The events of this season have made it abundantly clear that the people I spent years sitting round tables with are unable to deliver the real changes we need to see on the ground. And when it’s clear a partnership can’t deliver what it needs to, then it’s time to separate.

    And let’s be abundantly clear. The action plan has not failed to deliver because of the RSPB. It has failed to deliver because illegal killing has not ended and hen harriers remain in danger.

    What’s my over-riding sentiment to this? Anger? Depression? Disappointment?

    No – its determination.

    Determination that this will be the last failed process. Determination that we will all, especially law-abiding shooting estates, grasp the real opportunity presented by licensing. Determination that we will continue to work with partners on the ground to protect the birds. Determination that we will save our hen harriers.

    And licensing really does offer an opportunity. It’s not a blanket approach, but targeted specifically at driving up standards. Progressives in the shooting community should be looking to embrace licensing as a way to identify and marginalise illegality and bad practice. There are plenty out there calling for a total ban on driven grouse shooting. Over 64,000 have signed this petition. For me, taking licensing seriously provides the grouse shooting industry with an option to avoid the failure of the Hen Harrier Action Plan being seen as another milestone on the way to ever increasing calls for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting and the land use and practices that support it. It’s an opportunity they mustn't let slip by.

    Have I wasted the last four years working on an action plan that has failed entirely? I don’t think so. Because much like failure in sports, in relationships, indeed in life, with hen harriers if we learn the lessons and move forward to achieve our goals in the future, ultimately it will all be worth it.

    If you share my determination, please attend one of the upcoming Hen Harrier Day events on 6th/7th August and, if you live in Scotland, sign this petition supporting calls for licensing.