Record year for hen harrier breeding success
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Natural England has announced the most successful year for hen harrier breeding since the establishment of the hen harrier recovery project
A press release published on the Gov.uk website today (3 September) brings the welcome news that Natural England has recorded the best year for hen harrier breeding success since the hen harrier recovery project was established.
The public body recored 60 chicks fledged from 19 nests across Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire in early summer 2020.
Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England, said: “2020 has seen the best breeding season for England’s hen harriers in years and I thank all those who’ve helped achieve this wonderful result, including landowners and managers, campaigners, conservation groups, police officers and our own Natural England staff and volunteers.
“Despite the great progress there is though no cause for complacency. Too many birds still go missing in unexplained circumstances and I urge anyone who is still engaged in the persecution of these magnificent creatures to cease at once.
“Hen harriers remain critically endangered in England and there is a long way to go before the population returns to what it should be.”
Although rare cases of illegal persecution undoubtedly play their part, so to does habitat loss/destruction, food availability, and predation; like grouse, hen harriers make their nests on the ground in the heather moorlands of upland Britain, and so their eggs and young are vulnerable to the same threats including predation by foxes, mink and corvids. It is thought to be just one factor in the success of hen harrier breeding on moors managed for grouse shooting.
For example, in 2018, a third of all successful nests were located on the Bowland Estate in Lancashire, and last year there were 15 successful hen harrier nests, of which 11 were located on grouse moors.
Although gamekeepers and the shooting industry in general is often blamed for the hen harrier’s tenuous conservation status, it is by Chris Packham’s own admission that less than 0.01% of the shooting community is thought to engage in illegal raptor persecution, which is condemned by all the rural organisations and the overwhleming majority of the shooting industry. There are ongoing reintroduction projects being backed by shooting organisations, such as the Southern Hen Harrier reintroduction project, which works with gamekeepers, land managers and farmers and is backed by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.