England’s most threatened bird of prey has taken a small step back from the brink of extinction.
Last year, England’s hen harriers suffered their worst breeding season for decades, failing to produce a single chick anywhere in the whole country.
This year, however, is shaping up to be marginally better with a pair currently raising chicks on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in the Forest of Bowland.
There is also a second nest on the estate with the female sitting on eggs.
Bowland used to be the English stronghold for hen harriers and the upland bird of prey is even the symbol of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, the current nests represent the first breeding attempts in the area since 2011.
The RSPB and United Utilities have monitored and protected hen harriers in Bowland for more than three decades. Both nests are being watched by dedicated staff and volunteers, as well as CCTV around the clock.
Jude Lane, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, says: “After two years of bitter disappointment, I am delighted and relieved that hen harriers have returned to nest in Bowland. However, the species is still in serious trouble and at risk from extinction as a breeding bird in England.”
The plight of the English hen harrier stems from the fact that hen harriers sometimes eat red grouse, which brings them into conflict with the driven grouse shooting industry.
A legal method that could reduce the number of grouse chicks lost to hen harriers is a management technique known as diversionary feeding. This involves providing hen harriers with an alternative food source during the period when the adults are feeding their chicks.