Hen harrier in England (IN7.8)

Conflicts with grouse shooting

It is well-known that hen harriers feed on both young and adult grouse during the breeding season and, as a result, the bird is unpopular with grouse moor owners and game keepers. Studies in Scotland have confirmed that in certain situations, high densities of breeding hen harriers can limit red grouse populations and reduce the number of birds available for shooting.

Although there are large tracts of apparently suitable breeding habitat in England, the hen harrier is severely limited by illegal persecution. Andy Brown / English Nature.

The situation in northern England is very different. Only very small numbers of hen harriers are present and breeding densities are currently far too low to have any significant impact on grouse numbers. As breeding hen harriers have been absent or present in only very low numbers in England during the 20th century, they have clearly played no role in the decline in grouse bags seen in some areas.

Despite this, illegal persecution carried out primarily on moorland managed for grouse shooting is thought to be the main factor limiting the hen harrier breeding population in England.

It has been estimated by the Game Conservancy Trust that there is sufficient moorland habitat in England to support about 230 pairs of hen harriers. There are, however, only two small areas in England where hen harriers have bred regularly in recent years, Bowland Fells in Lancashire and the Geltsdale area straddling the Cumbria/Northumberland border.

In 2000, these areas supported only five successful pairs and, in 2001, the situation deteriorated further. A small number of pairs bred at Bowland but none at all were found at Geltsdale. It is clear that urgent action is required in order to save the hen harrier from becoming extinct in England for the second time in its history.

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