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Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier fly high over grouse moors

18th August 2019

The arrival of the grouse shooting season has been enhanced by an upsurge of breeding success stories including Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Hen Harrier.

Reported sightings from 14 grouse moors by gamekeepers on the North York Moors revealed 25 pairs of Merlin displaying breeding behaviour. At least 56 young Merlin were observed on the wing suggesting a high rate of successful fledging. Ten of the possible 25 nests were ringed by the local BTO licensed ringer.

This follows the news that a pair of Peregrine Falcons have successfully nested at a new site on a sporting estate that hosts grouse and pheasant shooting on the North York Moors.

The nest was first seen in May and has subsequently produced three fledglings, consisting of two males and one female. The adult male Peregrine had been in the area for several years, but this is the first time he has found a mate. Gamekeepers on the estate have been working with the BBC Natural History Unit, who filmed the nest as part of their Year in the Life of the North York Moors programme.

These latest breeding figures were revealed as Birdfair 2019 celebrated conservation success.

Merlin (Falco columbarius) are the UK’s smallest falcon and are probably the most iconic breeding raptor in the North York Moors National Park. The North York Moors moorland area is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive because of its important populations of Merlin and Golden Plover.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

There are concerns the population may be reducing due to climate change however recent surveys of Merlin on grouse moor estates reveal there has been a good population of adult nesting birds producing a good crop of fledglings in 2019.

One of the Merlin chicks died after flying into a glass patio door in Cloughton, near Scarborough which is approximately 29km in a South Easterly direction from the nest site. The other chicks from the brood have been seen flying in the surrounding area.

Across England, 2019 has also been a very encouraging year for Hen Harriers with a total of 15 nests, 12 of which were successful fledging 47 young, a record-breaking total. There were nests in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Northumberland and Lancashire. This year has also seen the first successful trial of Hen Harrier brood management on a grouse moor.

A brood of Hen Harriers at the ‘Ritz’ of all raptor rearing facilities as part of the Brood Management Trial.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association said: “The conservation work that is carried out on grouse moors by owners and gamekeepers is often overlooked in the debate around the start of the grouse shooting season. To see improving breeding success across a range of birds of prey in particular is hugely encouraging and the shooting community are looking forward to building on that in future.”

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Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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