Excitement as hen harrier chicks born on forest estate

Phil Gunning, grouse shooting tenant of United Utilities Bowland Estate, with one of last year's hen harrier chicks.
Phil Gunning, grouse shooting tenant of United Utilities Bowland Estate, with one of last year's hen harrier chicks.

The first successful pairing and breeding of hen harriers on the public forest estate in Northumberland for several years has taken place.

The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership is pleased to announce two successful hen harrier nests on Forestry Commission land.

One male paired up with two females and worked phenomenally hard to feed both nests. A 24-hour watch was implemented since the discovery of the nests.

Cameras were installed by the RSPB and a dedicated team of raptor conservation volunteers and Forestry Commission wildlife rangers have contributed to safeguarding the birds.

Five chicks hatched in Nest 1 and three chicks in Nest 2. All the birds have now fledged.

The young birds were ringed by a Forestry Commission ornithologist and have been fitted with satellite tags supplied by the RSPB and Natural England to assist in monitoring them.

The partners are thrilled that the habitat is able to support two hen harrier nests.

The Forestry Commission is delighted that the public forest estate can again add to the conservation of an endangered bird species and to the wider range of priority species and habitats.

Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission ecologist, said: “It’s great news and we hope that this will mean many more successful years for breeding hen harriers on land the Forestry Commission manages.

“The fact that one male has been able to feed seven chicks and his partners highlights our habitat value to the species.”

The success of the hen harriers fledging in Northumberland is down to a partnership between Forestry Commission, the RSPB, Natural England, Northumberland National Park Authority, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Ministry of Defence, Northumbria Police and a dedicated group of raptor experts.

Seven healthy chicks on the wing is the best possible reward for the partners’ hard work.

Andrew Miller, head of programmes and conservation at Northumberland National Park and chairman of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, said: “Hen harriers are one of our most threatened species and will only be helped back from the brink of extinction in England with the help of all of our upland land managers and partners.”

The news came ahead of Hen Harrier Day on Sunday, which saw the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, CLA, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Moorland Association calling for Defra to implement a plan for their recovery across England as they all want to see more hen harriers nesting.

This year, nesting attempts saw a 300 per cent increase to 12 nests. Six of these were successful in Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and Lancashire, with 18 chicks surviving.

But despite this welcome news, the organisations say more needs to be done.