Conservation at Work

Blog & News


22nd June 2023

Bird of prey sightings on a North York Moors estate have risen to record levels.

Spaunton Estate, which carries out detailed species survey work, has reported an increase of 201 per cent in bird of prey sightings over five years from 711 in 2018 to 2,144 in 2022.

There were notable successes for many of our most loved birds of prey, including Merlin, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, underlining a clear positive trend. Buzzard are the most numerous species, with 862 recorded last year.

George Winn Darley, owner of Spaunton Estate, said:

“The significant increase in birds of prey at Spaunton mirrors the soaring numbers across Yorkshire and indeed the north of England. Visitors love seeing them in the skies above and we are delighted that even exceptionally rare birds such as Hen Harrier and Osprey are now seen. Indeed, the number of Hen Harriers is at its highest for a century in England.

“The efforts made by gamekeepers, landowners and partner organisations have worked wonders for many of these rare species, despite the increasing number of visitors who come to enjoy the moors. This is an absolute conservation success story.”

Kestrel numbers have continued their trend of recovery from around 150 sightings in 2018 to 567 sightings in 2022 (a 285 per cent increase). Kestrel are breeding successfully in several locations on the estate each year.

Red Kite have shown a consistent increase from only two sightings five years ago; to 11 in 2019; to 50 in 2020; to 84 in 2021 and 179 in the last year. They are now well established and breeding nearby.

The UK’s smallest bird of prey, the Merlin, remains nationally very rare but sightings have increased from 29 to 98 over the past five years at Spaunton (an increase of 237 per cent).

As a ground-nesting bird, the Merlin’s eggs and chicks are a food source for a number of other species, from foxes to stoats, weasels and crows. The gamekeepers at Spaunton control predators such as foxes and stoats, to help ensure the Merlin chicks have a better chance of survival, as well as maintaining areas of heather on slopes which are favoured for nesting.

George Winn Darley continued: “We have been working to support these amazing birds for many years now, so  it is always incredibly satisfying to see birds that are pairing up and looking to nest. There is always some trepidation once nesting begins as to how many chicks will survive. But the protected habitats here offer them the best chance of fledging chicks successfully, with fewer predators than would be found in most areas of the country.”

Spaunton Estate records data on birds of prey and works with organisations such as the British Trust for Ornithology to collect further data on their territory and range.

Merlin and Golden Plover are the two species for which the North York Moors are designated as a Special Protection Area.


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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