Hen harrier in England (IN7.8)

The Hen Harrier Recovery Project

English Nature has launched a three-year project, starting in spring 2002, to monitor the remaining hen harriers on their northern England breeding grounds and try to identify the reasons why numbers are currently so low.

Although persecution is thought to be the main factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England as a whole, other factors such as the suitability of local habitats and food availability may also be significant in some areas. Before we can start to tackle the problems currently faced by the hen harrier in England it is important that we have a good understanding of all the factors involved and their relative importance.

A project coordinator and four seasonal fieldworkers will spend as much time as possible on the moorland breeding areas around Bowland and Geltsdale. Landowners in these two areas have been contacted and we have sought their permission to carry out fieldwork on private estates where monitoring effort is currently low. Fieldworkers will log every hen harrier seen and record details such as age, sex, behaviour and habitat choice. Evidence suggesting that a pair has settled to breed will be followed up and, once identified, nest sites will be monitored closely throughout the breeding season until the young have fledged.

It is hoped to attach small radio-transmitters to some birds so that their movements can be followed remotely by radio-tracking. This technique has been used with great success on other birds of prey in England and should help to reveal information about survival rates, ranging behaviour and dispersal patterns. Radio-tracking will be especially useful for locating dead birds, allowing them to be recovered quickly so that the cause of death can be established.

This project aims to provide a starting point for an upturn in the fortunes of the beleaguered English hen harrier and, given the current state of the hen harrier population, even a small rise in numbers would be welcome.

The male hen harrier is pale grey, giving it an almost ghostly appearance as it floats silently over the moors. RSPB Images
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