Fourth hen harrier disappears in Bowland

Male hen harrier, an endangered bird of prey
Male hen harrier, an endangered bird of prey
  • Male endangered bird fails to return to nest
  • Eggs found abandoned and cold
  • Police and RSPB appealing for information
  • Criminal intent a possibility

A fourth breeding male hen harrier has disappeared from the Bowland AONB leading to the failure of another nest.

Lancashire Police and the RSPB are appealing for any information about what happened to the upland bird of prey, which had an active nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate.

The last confirmed sighting of the male was on Friday May 29 when it was observed passing food to the female.

RSPB staff continued to see the female in the vicinity of the nest but were concerned by the absence of the male bringing food.

They visited the nest on Monday June 1, and discovered that it had been abandoned and that the eggs were cold.

This is the latest in a series of unexplained disappearances in the Bowland area, with three breeding males failing to return to their nests earlier in the season.

In another recent incident, Cumbria Constabulary is calling for information about a breeding male hen harrier that vanished from the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria on Saturday May 23, resulting in failure of the nest.

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 (note).

Hen harriers are England’s most threatened breeding bird of prey: last year there were only four successful nests in the whole country, two of which were on the United Utilities Bowland Estate.

The RSPB has been working on the Untied Utilities estate for over 35 years, developing a strong partnership with the water company, together with the support of its farming and shooting tenants.

Graham Jones, the RSPB’s conservation manager for the RSPB in North West England, said: “All of the RSPB and United Utilities staff and volunteers who have been monitoring the hen harrier nests in Bowland are devastated by this latest disappearance, as are the estate’s shooting tenants.

“However, we are now more committed than ever to rescuing this beautiful bird from the brink of extinction in England.”

Lorraine Ellwood, Lancashire Police Rural Policing and Wildlife Co-ordinator, said: “We remain open minded as to the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the male harriers, and are exploring all possibilities of both natural causes and criminal intent.”

Anyone with information about the missing bird should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or, alternatively, call the RSPB on 01767 693690.

As part of an EU LIFE+ funded project, the RSPB is fitting satellite tags to as many hen harrier chicks as possible, which will enable the nature conservation organisation to track their movements and monitor what happens to them.