Natural England
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Where are all the harriers?

Numbers of hen harriers – England’s most threatened bird of prey - are flat lining with no sign of a recovery.

Latest figures from the RSPB and Natural England show the English population bumping along the bottom, with just 10 successful nests from 19 attempts in 2008.

Last year saw 14 successful nests from 23 attempts and since 1994, the number of successful nests in England has never exceeded 15. This is despite estimates that the country’s uplands could support at least 200 breeding pairs.

The RSPB’s Director of Conservation, Dr Mark Avery, said: “There is no natural reason why hen harrier numbers are so low. If there is no illegal killing, as some grouse-shooting interests would have us believe, then where are the missing birds?

“This year’s numbers are a huge disappointment given the good track record of lowland land managers in helping to conserve iconic birds of prey like the red kite.”

The Forest of Bowland in Lancashire remains the hen harriers’ stronghold with 14 of this year’s 19 nesting attempts. Much of the land is managed by United Utilities and their estate saw 10 attempts, seven of which were successful. Surrounding driven grouse moors saw four attempts, one of which was successful.

Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of Natural England, said: “Results for 2008 show that Bowland continues to be the stronghold for hen harriers in England – a situation achieved through working in partnership with shooting interests, landowners and managers. This pocket of birds is now a snap shot of what should be a national situation.”

However, Sir Martin warned: “Small populations of species can be highly vulnerable to chance events and we cannot literally have all our eggs in one basket. If we lose the hen harrier in Bowland, we could lose it in England. We must have a much larger and widespread population of this fantastic upland bird.”

Away from Bowland, there were five breeding attempts in Northern England, two of which were successful. In one, five chicks successfully fledged from a nest in Hepple, Northumberland, proving a huge draw to people keen to see these fantastic birds.

A breeding attempt in the Peak District failed when, after a period of display, nest building and mating, the female bird was not seen again. A second female then paired with the male bird but sightings of this female also ended abruptly.

This means that, once again, no harriers bred on large areas of ideal habitat managed as grouse moors in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.

The RSPB has challenged upland landowners to help increase hen harrier numbers to 40 breeding pairs by 2010, with half of those on grouse moors. This year’s results show much remains to be done to achieve even this modest target.

Dr Avery said: “We want to work with shooting interests to increase hen harrier numbers but moorland owners and managers have to stop pretending illegal killing isn’t happening so we can all work together to stop it.”

Sir Martin said: “Natural England will continue to work with landowners countrywide to increase the hen harrier’s range. Our monitoring work to tag and track the birds from Bowland will help us understand more about their behaviour as they travel around the country throughout the year.”



For more information contact:

John Clare, RSPB media officer 01767 693582/07738881359
Beth Rose, Natural England senior press officer 07900 608 052

Images:photographs are available from the Natural England press office

Notes to editors:

1. Summary of hen harrier breeding data 2008

All England
19 attempts, 10 successful, 31 Fledged

Forest of Bowland
Grouse Moors - 4 attempts, 1 successful, 3 fledged
United Utilities - 10 attempts, 7 successful, 22 fledged

Rest of England

Northern England - 5 attempts, 2 successful, 6 fledged

2. The RSPB has launched a campaign calling for an end to the illegal killing of birds of prey and is asking the public to support their work to protect birds of prey. For more information click on

3. Natural England’s hen harrier recovery project monitors nests and chicks from Bowland. Stephen Murphy is Natural England’s hen harrier specialist and is licensed to approach nests to install cameras and fit chicks with light weight radio tracking devices, to monitor their progress once they fledge.

Stephen has pictures from the nests this year and up to the minute radio tracking data. For information or interviews please contact Natural England’s press office: 07900 608 052,

4. This year Defra added hen harrier to the government’s list of species considered of principal importance for conserving England’s wildlife. The move was recognition of the hen harrier being “England’s most seriously threatened bird of prey.” In Defra’s words, it was included on the list “in light of the severe declines this bird has suffered in England.”

5. A series of hen harrier safaris run by the RSPB and the Forestry Commission give people a chance to see the Hepple birds and more than 500 people from all over the country took the opportunity, with children at a local primary school adopting and naming the chicks. RSPB and Natural England also run safaris in Bowland.

6. Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. We conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

The RSPB speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. Nature is amazing - help us keep it that way. Join today

'The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654

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