17th August 2023
A pioneering trial set up to help rebuild the population of the endangered Hen Harrier in England has reared and released 24 chicks this year, almost double last year’s record high of 13.
Hen Harrier numbers have shown continuous improvement in recent years, coinciding with the introduction of the government-led Hen Harrier recovery plan in 2016 and the availability of the brood management trial two years later to alleviate conflict. The trial has seen 58 chicks take to the wing in total.
Monitoring has shown that birds reared in previous years have gone on to successfully breed in the wild as adults, demonstrating that the scheme has not adversely affected their behaviour or ability to breed.
The population of Hen Harriers in England is now at its highest for 100 years. As recently as 2013 there were no chicks fledged at all.
Estates in Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham and Lancashire have actively participated in the trial with many Moorland Association members hosting other wild nests further boosting the population.
75 per cent of Hen Harrier nests in England are on land managed as grouse moor.
The trial involves eggs and chicks from wild nests being reared for a few weeks at a specialist bird of prey centre before being transported to pens on grouse moors where they are tagged and monitored before being released into the wild, back into the same part of the country that they came from. The trial is conducted under strict licence conditions overseen by Natural England, a Project Board and Scientific Advisory Group.
John Holmes, Natural England Strategy Director, said “The Hen Harrier is an iconic species and it is wonderful to see the progress that has been made towards restoring it to our uplands. Partnership working is the key to ensuring we protect our rarest species and help nature recover, with the enormous benefits for wildlife and people this brings.”
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “I am delighted by the remarkable results this season, following on from last year’s record number of chicks fledged. The trial has been far more successful than expected and is making a significant contribution to achieving a self-sustaining population of Hen Harriers in the uplands of England. I am grateful to all those involved, including gamekeepers and estates who put in a huge effort to help ensure these birds have the best possible chance of fledging chicks successfully both in temporary captivity and the wild.”
The first phase of the trial ran from 2018 – 2022. The licence extension now granted by Natural England runs to 2024.
The aims of the brood management trial are to rear a number of Hen Harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands. The birds selected for the brood management scheme are those which are nesting in close proximity to other Hen Harrier nests. The scheme will test if the method reduces conflict with the moorland community. It is one of a series of actions set out in the Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan, which also includes direct work to tackle illegal killing.
The survival rate of brood-managed birds since 2019 has been higher than in the wild. Young Hen Harriers face a number of challenges including attack by other predators, disease, starvation and extreme weather, often suffering a high mortality rate within their first year.