16th September 2023
Figures released today by Natural England show another rise in the population of Hen Harriers in England, with 141 chicks fledging successfully this year. This increase is nearly a further fifth from last year’s 119 chicks which was the highest number for a century.
The data marks a decade of population growth for this very rare bird. As recently as 2013, there were no successful Hen Harrier nests in England.
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “We are delighted to have played a key part in this remarkable success story. It is practical action that has made the difference for this charismatic species. Our members undertake a range of actions including nest monitoring, supplementary feeding and, crucially, providing protected habitat which offers these ground-nesting birds the best chance of successfully fledging chicks.”
The government’s Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan was established in 2016 and the Hen Harrier Brood Management Trial began in 2018 under a licence to help restore Hen Harriers to suitable habitat in the north of England. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Hawk and Owl Trust, the International Centre for Birds of Prey and Natural England work in partnership with the Moorland Association on the scheme.
Since the first licence for brood management was available in 2018, a clear and impressive 1,300% improvement has been witnessed, with 485 chicks successfully taking to the wing in England, nine times the number in the six-year period before the trial.
The recent expansion of the Hen Harriers’ geographic range to nest in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire in recent years is also very positive, boosting resilience of this successfully recovering population.
Amanda Anderson continued: “These outstanding results get us a long way toward the goal to achieve a Hen Harrier population that is sustainable, well-dispersed and coexists alongside economically viable driven grouse shooting. Land managers and gamekeepers in the north have invested considerable time and money to boost Hen Harrier numbers, working closely with our partners, and we are very pleased that their efforts have proven to be remarkably successful. The birds are reaching their targets in a number of areas in the north of England’s uplands, and will be further bolstered by a Defra plan to reintroduce the Hen Harrier to the south of England too. If that is half as successful, favourable condition in England could well be restored, ending decades of concern for the species.”
Conservation actions undertaken as part of the Joint Action Plan include nest and winter roost protection, monitoring of populations, supplementary feeding, reintroduction of the species to Southern England and the Brood Management Scheme trial.
The Hen Harrier is unusual as a species in that it tends to nest close to other Hen Harriers’ nests. The trial involves taking eggs and chicks from some nests, raising the chicks in a specialist bird of prey rearing facility for a few weeks and then releasing the juveniles into suitable habitat in the same general area that they came from. The trial is conducted under strict licence conditions overseen by Natural England, a Project Board and Scientific Advisory Group. The trial has been part funded by the Wildlife Habitat Charitable Trust, through a conservation grant to support the Hen Harrier recovery plan.
The Brood Management trial is one of the elements that has made the most difference for the Hen Harrier, and has added a total of 58 chicks to the wild population to date, some of which have gone on to breed in the wild themselves.