Plea for any Borders sightings of rare bird

Hen Harrier at its nest on Langholm Moor.
Hen Harrier at its nest on Langholm Moor.

Eagle-eyed members of the Borders public are being urged to report any sightings in the region of rare hen harriers.

The initiative is part of the ‘Heads Up for Harriers’ project group being run by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) to help preserve the birds’ numbers.

Hen harriers frequent many Scottish moors, where their acrobatic aerial courtship displays are a tell-tale sign of breeding activity. But their distribution and numbers are still restricted in some areas.

A number of causes, including illegal persecution, land use changes and predation, have resulted in a reduction in hen harrier numbers, to the point that the hen harrier is now one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey. In reality, however, many factors are likely to come into play – and the project wants to determine these.

Building upon the successes of 2015, when 10 young hen harriers fledged from five participating estates, the Heads Up for Harriers group is extending the project across Scotland. Nest cameras are being used to monitor breeding success at these nests and to help determine possible causes for any breeding failure. This year there is a national survey of hen harriers, so the project is hoping for a bumper crop of sightings.

Project Officer Wendy Mattingley who is responsible for co-ordinating sightings, said: “While we do know of historical nesting sites, there is no guarantee that birds will return to the exact location each year. So it’s vital to the success of the project and our understanding of the threats facing these wonderful birds that we receive sightings.”

Male hen harriers are distinctive, with a pale, ash-grey colour, black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre.

The project has a dedicated sightings hotline and e-mail address. E-mail sightings to HenHarrier@snh.gov.uk or call 07767 671973 with details of places where birds are seen (a six-figure grid reference is best), the time and date and any notes on behaviour.