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25th January 2021

Hen harriers are being recorded on at least half of grouse moors in England, a new survey has revealed.

The hen harrier is one of the most at-risk birds of prey in the UK and a government-led action plan is in operation to help boost the population.

A survey conducted by the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moors across one million acres of moorland in England, has revealed a high level of endangered birds on land managed for grouse shooting. These include birds of prey such as hen harrier and merlin as well as waders such as curlew and lapwing. All four of these birds are on the ‘Red List’ of most conservation concern.

More than 100 grouse moor managers took part in the survey and half reported hen harriers on their land. Merlin were recorded on 70% of moors.

Thanks to the Defra-led Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan, which was developed by a number of organisations including the Moorland Association, last year saw the most successful breeding season for hen harriers for 35 years.  Sixty chicks fledged from 19 nests across Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire in summer 2020. Twelve of these nests were on land managed for grouse shooting fledging 40 chicks. Nearly 100 chicks have now fledged since the plan was launched in 2016. As recently as 2013 there were no successful nests at all.

Moorland Association members are also actively involved in a brood management research trial to establish if it is possible to rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands. Thirteen chicks have successfully fledged so far under the trial.

The survey of Moorland Association members also revealed that curlew, which is globally threatened and one of the UK’s most at-risk birds, and lapwing were recorded breeding on almost all of moors (90%). Last year, gamekeepers also reported other birds of prey, including peregrine, nesting on grouse moors.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister, chairman of the Moorland Association, said: “Our commitment to help recover the hen harrier population to ‘favourable conservation status’ is working — as more and more of these charismatic birds are now being seen on the land we manage, coupled with the remarkable increase in breeding success. This survey shows that hen harriers, other birds of prey and waders are all flourishing on our carefully managed moors, bucking trends of plunging decline elsewhere.

“There can be conflict between birds of prey and game birds but leading the way with practical knowledge, expertise and innovation, we are demonstrating that we can attain a sustainable balance for our remote uplands and boost nature’s recovery.”


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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