Hen harrier nesting success in England. Cheer, but maybe not too loudly.

Hen harrier chicks in a Perthshire nest (photo taken under licence)

Reading the various articles and listening to the accounts of breeding success of hen harrier in the north of England this year the lay-person would be of the view that there is a considerable improvement in the fortunes of these most persecuted of raptors. There is no doubt that nine successful nests with 24 chicks fledged is good news but I suspect congratulations must be held slightly in check.

I listened to the BBC Farming Today programme, where comments on the successful nesting were given by Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association and Cathleen Thomas of the RSPB hen harrier Life project.  Amanda claims that 60% of the successful nests were on moors managed for red grouse.

A Natural England press release claims, ‘There were 14 nesting attempts of which nine were successful in producing chicks. Unfortunately three nests failed due to predation and two due to a polygamous male struggling to provide two nests at once. Half of the attempts, four of which were successful, were on National Nature Reserves. While all other attempts and successful nests were on land managed for grouse shooting; one of these nests was just off the moorland on a hill farm in-bye land’.

This sounds great news but the blog Raptor Persecution UK claims that of the four successful nests said to be on grouse moors, three were on United Utilities-owned land and one on National Trust-owned land. The blog article claims that there was ‘not a single successful hen harrier nest on a privately-owned grouse moor anywhere in northern England’.

In her interview on BBC Farming Today, Kathleen Thomas said that, of the nine successful nests, seven were protected by the RSPB. It stands to reason that if a nest is known to be protected then the chance of human interference diminishes considerably.

Amanda Anderson also brings in the DEFRA Action Plan to the equation, detailing the (daft) brood management plans for relocation of eggs. I don’t see the relevance of this at this stage and in any case this sop to grouse shooting estates rather than have them simply obey the law like the rest of us will hopefully be killed off before it has a chance to get underway.

So let’s not trash the improvement, modest though it is. There are many factors at play, not least the amount of voles available to the harriers. It needs now to continue year on year. It also has to involve privately-owned driven grouse moors before we can throw our hats in the air. Successfully fledged harriers on these moors will be the real test.

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