First cross-border project to protect hen harriers

A hen harrier in full flight
A hen harrier in full flight

A cross-border five year programme to protect hen harriers, which are an endangered bird of prey, has been launched by the RSPB.

They have identified seven special protection areas for breeding the harrriers, which nest on the ground, in southern and eastern Scotland and northern England.

The hen harrier, with a wingspan of up to four feet, used to be a widespread and familiar bird in Britain’s uplands and the RSPB hope that their ambitious programme of direct conservation action and community engagement will boost number.

The RSPB blame persecution by gamekeepers, hunters seeking specimens for taxidermy and egg collectors for pushing the harrier to the brink of extinction as a breeding ­species on the British mainland by 1990.

Although the hen harrier is legally protected and has clawed back some of its lost ground, its diet of birds and small mammals includes grouse, which brings it into conflict with those whose livelihoods depend on hunting estates in southern, central and eastern Scotland and northern England where land management for driven grouse shooting is most intensive.

The new strategy, known as the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, is the first cross-Border joint Scottish-English initiative for the species.

The Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project aims to work progressively with landowners and the shooting community, championing best practice where it occurs.

Between 2004 and 2010 there was a 20 per cent decline in hen harriers across Scotland. In 2013, hen harriers failed to nest in England for the first time since the 1960s. In 2014 there were three nests. But there is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs

Blanaid Denman, manager of the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, said: “Hen harriers are in dire straits. Numbers are declining dramatically and urgent action is needed, which is why this European Union-funded project is both welcome and timely.

“The cross-Border project provides a huge boost to our efforts to monitor and protect harriers.

“Working together with volunteers and other organisations, we will have more eyes and ears on the hills than ever before, using satellite tagging, winter roost monitoring and nest protection to deter persecution, identify the important areas for these birds and highlight where they’re most at risk.”

Professor Des Thompson, principal adviser on biodiversity at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “In parts of the UK, the state of the hen harrier population is perilous.

“This collaborative project offers a lifeline in securing key evidence on what is working well and badly for these birds.”

Dr James Robinson, the RSPB’s head of nature policy, added: ‘This EU LIFE+ funding means the RSPB and our partners can step up to do even more to stamp out the criminal acts that threaten the future of the iconic hen harrier in England and parts of Scotland.

“Actions speak louder than words and the RSPB is rolling up its sleeves to do the things that will secure a safe future for this ‘ghost of the moor’.”