Breeding success for hen harriers in Northumberland

This year has proved to be the most successful hen harrier breeding season for a decade in England, with 34 chicks fledged across Lancashire, Cumbria, Derbyshire and Northumberland.
Hen Harrier - Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Hen Harrier. Image by: Mark Hamblin/2020VISION.

The bird of prey is on the brink of extinction in England, but 11 youngsters have fledged in Northumberland, from three pairs, this breeding season.

This is the fourth consecutive year that Northumberland has had successful hen harrier nests, proving the North East to be the most consistent breeding location in England for the species.

Last year there were also three nests in the county - the only successful breeding in England - producing 10 youngsters, however, two satellite-tagged chicks disappeared over grous moors, just months after fledging.

The success of the hen harriers in Northumberland has been supported by a partnership between the Forestry Commission, Natural England, RSPB, Northumberland National Park Authority, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Ministry of Defence, Northumbria Police, Northern England Raptor Forum and a dedicated group of raptor experts.

This year’s nests were on land managed by Forestry Commission England and the organisation’s ecologist Tom Dearnley said: “There are few birds in England that can rival the mastery of the air which hen harriers effortlessly display and we are delighted that our partnership work contributes towards giving future generations the chance to see these birds in England’s wild places.”

Newcastle-based Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE project manager for the RSPB, said: “It’s great news that hen harriers have successfully nested again in Northumberland.

These birds are so rare in England that any fledged chicks are a huge cause for celebration. Northumberland played key role in protecting endangered hen harriers.

We will now be following the movements of these chicks very closely and hope that they make it to adulthood without falling prey to the illegal persecution that has virtually wiped them out as a breeding species in England.

It has been a better year but we are still a long way from the 300 pairs of hen harriers there should be in England and we can’t rest on our laurels.”

Gill Thompson, ecologist at Northumberland National Park, and chairperson of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, said: “It is great that we have had hen harriers successfully nesting again in Northumberland. This is our fourth year in a row and the most that have fledged in recent times.

The reason we know so much about these birds and have been able to successfully tag them is due to the excellent work of the Natural England, Forestry Commission and RSPB staff and volunteers with some good partnership working.

Let’s hope this year’s birds can survive to raise their own chicks in years to come; we will be following their progress with interest.”

Nationally 34 chicks fledged across Lancashire, Northumberland, Derbyshire. and Cumbria, which produced six chicks.

Andrew Sells, chairman of Natural England, said: “The increase in hen harrier chicks this year is truly remarkable.

These figures are a tribute to all those working hard for the survival of this breath-taking bird and show that responsible management of grouse moors must be part of the solution.

Reviving the fortunes of the hen harrier has been a cause close to my heart and I very much hope that we are now on the right path.

But it will take more than one good breeding season to bring about a thriving population so it’s important that there is no let-up in the efforts to conserve this magnificent bird.”