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August 18th, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Skydancer has won a National Lottery Award!

It’s four days later and I’m still buzzing…! Having been shortlisted from over 750 projects across the UK, I’m absolutely delighted to announce that Skydancer has officially won Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014! Fuelled with coffee for an early morning drive to Bowland, the Skydancer team and I thought we’d be spending the day with the BBC, filming a short clip of the project in action to be shown alongside all the others at the Lottery Awards ceremony in September. Little did we realise that just a few hours later, standing in a car park on the edge of the Bowland Fells, Chris Packham would be announcing Skydancer as the winner and presenting us with a very real (and surprisingly heavy) National Lottery Award! We had a great day out filming with families from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss Phoenix and Wildlife Explorers clubs. Miraculously the rain held off and as if they knew what was happening, two hen harriers even put in an appearance flying high over the moorland as the true stars of the show! Following hot on the heels of the success of Hen Harrier Day, this award is wonderful recognition of the importance of education and growing community support for a conservation issue like hen harriers. In the last three years we’ve delivered hen harrier talks to over 2,180 people in 53 community groups across the North of England; we’ve attended 19 events and shows generating over 950 conversations about hen harriers and giving out over 2,000 “hen harriers are brilliant!” stickers; we’ve run assemblies, workshops and field trips with 2,081 primary and 389 secondary school pupils, and hosted debate workshops with over 100 gamekeeping and countryside management students. For me, that final point is one of the most important achievements of the project and something that we will continue to strive towards through the new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, shooting and conservation communities working progressively together for the benefit of hen harriers. I’ve written before about what wonderful advocates for modern, enlightened gamekeeping the staff at Askham Bryan College are (see here ) and I’ll be proud to have them join us at the award ceremony in London, in September. In the meantime, there are far too many people deserving of thanks than I could ever possibly list here, but there are a few deserving of special mention – the Heritage Lottery Fund, United Utilities and the Forestry Commission for funding and supporting our work from the very beginning; all the enthusiastic teachers and staff who have encouraged their pupils to learn more about hen harriers and started them off on the Hen Harrier Hero Awards ; our community engagement volunteers who spend their spare time going into schools, and coming to events and shows, talking to anyone who’ll listen about hen harriers; all the night staff, volunteers, and partner organisations that worked tirelessly to protect this year’s handful of hen harrier nests in England; the Alnwick Garden and Circus Central for creating and staging the Hen Harrier Circus Show; the BBC Springwatch team for plugging our Hen Harrier Hotline; and anyone and everyone who has taken the time to spread the message about hen harriers that little bit wider. Most importantly, I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all 7,500 of you who voted for us to win this National Lottery Award. In so doing, you have helped bring national media attention to the plight of the hen harrier and sure, isn’t that the whole point? The National Lottery Awards Ceremony will be shown on BBC1, on Friday 19 th September.

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August 12th, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Hen Harrier Day in Pictures

In case you weren’t able to make it along to one of the three incredibly inspiring Hen Harrier Day events on Sunday (or even if you were!), I thought I’d share with you an overview of the Peak district event in pictures. For a fuller account of the day, see our Investigations blog here . All photos (c) Guy Shorrock and Blánaid Denman Enjoy!

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August 10th, 2014


Comment on Tracking the future of hen harriers

Fantastic to have some good news at last!  Great work from everyone involved in the monitoring and protection. Next challenge is to keep the fledged chicks and their parents safe as they fly further afield. Really pleased to see the RSPB launching a nationwide campaign on this issue too.

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August 9th, 2014

Bleasdale Cottages

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Good Summer

Our Forest of Bowland Holiday CottagesA long overdue update; the swallows have had a wonderful Summer, I was called into Hare House last night to remove one that was flying high in the hallway.It didn’n take many minutes using a childs fishing net. We …

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August 8th, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Tracking the future of hen harriers

All summer, RSPB staff and volunteers have been braving cold nights, midges, blazing sunshine, and torrential rain to ensure round-the-clock protection of two of the only hen harrier nests in England this year. Working in close partnership with United Utilities and their shooting and farming tenants, Natural England, and the Forest of Bowland AONB, with additional support from both Lancashire County and Ribble Valley Borough Councils, this tremendous effort has seen the successful rearing and fledging of 11 young hen harriers – the first from Bowland since 2011, and the embodiment of our hopes for the future of this iconic species.  Most of the chicks are sticking very close to home as they learn to hunt and fend for themselves in these early days, so it’s a great time to see them around the Forest of Bowland. What’s more, thanks to satellite tags generously provided and fitted by Natural England, our team will be able to follow the chicks wherever they go and we’ll be keeping this blog regularly updated with their exploits, allowing you to follow their journey as they spread their wings for the first time. We hope to have satellite tracking maps to show you soon, but for now I’ll leave you with some up-close and personal photos of our new harriers having their rings and tags fitted (carried out under licence with all due care taken to minimise disturbance of course). You can already tell these are going to be a feisty bunch!  All photos are kindly provided by RSPB Overnight Protection staff, Chris Beever. The adult male hen harrier swoops overhead. Our second family of hen harrier chicks, newly ringed.  RSPB Bowland Project Officer, Jude Lane, holding one of the newly ringed chicks. 

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August 8th, 2014

Backsbottom Farm

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Permaculture students

This week, 20 students for 12 days have been lucky to have had good weather as the dining room is outside with tarp canopy overhead in case it rainsThe pizza oven built on a previous occasionWashing up is outsideRod next to the encampmentStudents worki…

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August 8th, 2014

Cobden Farm Bed and Breakfast

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Sheep serves breakfast for jackdaw

Jackdaw just pecking for breakfast bugsCobden Farm B and B website

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August 4th, 2014

Height Top Farm

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height top farm 2014-08-04 20:25:00

HEIGHT TOP FARM HOLIDAY COTTAGES.Just been highly entertained by an inquisitive hare stalking a pheasant! The hare is keeping a safe distance and I don’t want to zoom and loose them both.

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August 3rd, 2014

Backsbottom Farm

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The "Slug Predator" in the poly tunnel is used to having it’s photo taken!!

Happyas a slow worm…can bein a warm place out of the rain and place like a poly tunnel!

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August 1st, 2014

Height Top Farm

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height top farm 2014-08-01 14:01:00

HEIGHT TOP FARM HOLIDAY COTTAGESKen finally got what he wanted and mowed for hay Monday 21st. July. Not sure if the hay from the wild flower meadow is up to his “very high” standards. The second meadow which is technically organic is a good crop, this …

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July 28th, 2014

Jude Lane

Blog Post: Working with hen harriers – the highs and the lows

I am pleased to present a guest blog from Mick Demain, the RSPB’s seasonal assistant warden in Bowland for the last few years, reflecting on his last few years monitoring harriers    Being the seasonal warden for the RSPB in Bowland means I am privileged to be working with raptors every day and undoubtedly the hen harrier is the star species. Over the years there have been many highs and lows. The 2011 season had been just like many others with success and some failure so as the 2012 season got under way I had no reason to think that this would be any different, but as the weeks passed I realised that the unthinkable was about to happen, we were to have no breeding harriers since they returned in the 1960s. You’ll probably know that 2013 was even worse with not a single successful breeding attempt in England. The species was now on the brink, the next step was to become extinct as a breeding species. So as the 2014 season got underway I had little reason to be optimistic as I drove up the estate tracks into the hills, however it soon became apparent that we may have a chance. The winter had been mild and the voles were in very high numbers, the grouse count had been the highest for twenty years and the pipits would soon be flooding in. In early March I had my first sighting of a harrier at a known site, this was a female and although she stayed only for a few minutes it was a start. By mid April she was back with a male and we were delighted when it soon became apparent that there would be a breeding attempt at this site. By the end of the month we had identified seven individual harriers at three sites including two adult males in their beautiful silver grey plumage. One of these then settled with a female one mile distant from the first pair. The remaining birds never paired up and eventually left the area but had someone offered me two pairs at the start of the season I would have gladly taken it! 2014 has been a great success with two pairs in Bowland and a third at another site, we can all bask in the glory of a good job done but we must not become complacent for this is only the start. This is where the recovery begins.

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July 26th, 2014

Alison Kelsall

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Nature diary

Seen from the cottage:-Swifts x7 maximum together, swallows and housemartins, sparrows, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, blue tits, great tits, blackbird, mallards, magpies, crows, red-legged partridge & chick, hare and heard curlew calling.Seen from th…

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July 23rd, 2014

Jude Lane

Blog Post: School children ‘adopt’ the Bowland harriers

What better way to inspire the next generation about hen harriers than to take them out and actually show them hen harriers! Luckily for me, I was privileged to be able to do just that when Siobhan McGuigan, the RSPB’s Youth Development Officer brought children from our local school, Brennand’s Endowed Primary in Slaidburn, onto the United Utilities estate earlier this month. The children aged 5-10 were brimming with excitement as they travelled in a land rover across the moor, then negotiated a heard of fluffy black and white four legged teddy bears (or Belted Galloway cattle) before making the final short walk to the viewing point passing heather, meadow pipits and cotton grass blowing in the wind. As soon as I met them they were all super keen to tell me what they’d learnt about these majestic raptors during previous visits made to the school as part of the RSPB’s Skydancer Project, explaining the food pass and where they like to nest. The children were given the opportunity to come up to see the birds after they ‘adopted’ the chicks and ran a competition to name them all. The four females have been named Sky, Highlander, Fern and Heather their only brother is now Flash. You’ll be able to follow the exploits of Sky and Highlander (pictured below) on this blog over the weeks, months and hopefully years to come. (c) RSPB. Highlander (left) and Sky (right) as named by pupils at Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn. It has to be said, I was a little nervous about how I was going to show a 5 year old a hen harrier from a distance of about a kilometre, but the timing of the visit was just perfect. With the spotting scopes set up on the diversionary feeding post, just a few seconds of looking down them rewarded all the children with views of the young hen harriers flying about and landing on the post – magical. “I felt really excited and happy because they are a really rare bird. There isn’t many of them in the UK. It is a privilege to go and see them.” The ten year old who said that, sadly, hit the nail on the head with all three of those sentences. I almost couldn’t have put it better myself. So whilst it is a real privilage to be able to show adults and children their first hen harrier I would far rather there were enough birds out there that people could just go and discover them for themselves. These birds should be gracing our skies over all the upland areas in England and be there for everyone to enjoy. Pupils from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School see what it’s like to be a member of the Hen harrier overnight protection staff.

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July 22nd, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Birders Against Wildlife Crime hen harrier podcasts

I was recently delighted to be invited to record a podcast about hen harriers with campaign group, Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) , as part of their series of podcasts leading up to Hen Harrier Day. If you’ve not come across them before, BAWC are a group definitely worth checking out – concerned, knowledgeable birders promoting awareness, and appropriate recording and reporting of wildlife crimes. Have a look at their brilliant website here and I definitely recommend having a read of their FAQ for a fuller explanation of what they’re all about.  BAWC are the instigators of Hen Harrier Day and alongside Mark Avery in the Peak District and the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland, will be running a Hen Harrier event in Northumberland on August 10th. More information on all three events can be found on their website here .  To listen to me describing the beauty of a skydancing hen harrier in full flight or indeed any of the other excellent podcasts, simply visit their soundcloud page here or the podcast page of their website here .  I’ll be at the Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District – hope to see you there! 

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July 22nd, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Only 2 days to help Skydancer win a National Lottery Award!

This is it folks – only two days to go! Voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Wednesday 23rd July, and we need your help for one final push to help us win Best Education Project at the National Lottery Awards. We’re up against stiff competition but winning would mean national media attention for hen harriers on a BBC One televised award ceremony in September.   Please cast your vote online and encourage all your family and friends to do the same! Every vote counts – thank you!

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July 19th, 2014

Alison Kelsall

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Nature diary

We saw the following birds and wildlife whilst staying at Caldertop Cottage:-Hares, red-legged partridge, wagtails, great tits, blue tits, house sparrows, swallows, pheasants (mum & chicks), ducks & ducklings, cows & calves, chickens, sheep…

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July 17th, 2014

Jude Lane

Blog Post: Four more harriers in Bowland!

So here are the newest additions to the English hen harrier population! © Mick Demain, RSPB.  While the five young from the first nest are all flying well now, these little ones in the second nest still have a fair bit of growing before they see the world from above the heather. Given the diligence of their parents, the adult male was seen to bring in 3 items of food last night in 20 minutes, it will only be a matter of weeks before we see them flying strong too. © RSPB Just four weeks is all it takes for hen harriers to develop from helpless, downy, bug eyed chicks to stunning, fully feathered birds ready to take to the skies!    

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July 16th, 2014

Blánaid Denman

Blog Post: Five more years of hen harrier conservation

It’s a day of countdowns… 25 days until the Hen Harrier Day peaceful protests on the 10 th August (I’ll be at the Peak District one – more info here )… … 7 days until voting closes for the National Lottery Awards (cast your vote here )…  …and only 9 days until I bid a fond and emotional farewell to Skydancer.   Yes, you read that right but don’t worry, the project’s not finishing! In fact, I’m not really leaving – merely switching desks to take up my new post as Project Manager for RSPB’s new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project. What’s that, you ask? Well I’m delighted to announce that we’ve just received a grant from the European LIFE+ fund for an ambitious five-year, cross-border project covering hen harrier conservation in Northern England and Southern Scotland. The project officially starts this month and I will take up my post as Project Manager in August. Details of the new project will follow in due course but it will focus largely on practical conservation measures such as nest protection, winter roost monitoring, and satellite tagging, while also building on the great community engagement achievements of Skydancer by extending this work wider and continuing to seek opportunities to work progressively with the shooting communities in these areas. It’s only 50% funded by LIFE+, so we’ve also just launched a Hen Harrier Appeal – see here for more info.   Stepping back from Skydancer with just 15 months to go was never going to be an easy decision, and I can already tell that Friday next week is going to be a very emotional day for me. However, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new job and excited about the opportunities and potential for hen harrier conservation that the LIFE+ project represents. Most importantly, nothing will stop with Skydancer and we’re already recruiting for a replacement. If you feel passionately about hen harrier conservation and enjoy working with a wide range of people and communities, then I can’t recommend it enough! Check it out for yourself and apply online here: Skydancer Engagement Officer – you just can’t beat that job title. It’s been a dream come true to see Skydancer through to the National Lottery Awards and what an incredible high it would be to leave on if we manage to win…! Please, please, if you haven’t already – vote here and encourage all your friends and family to do the same, and share on Facebook and Twitter. Winning would mean national media attention for these amazing birds and what better leaving present could I ask for than that? To every one of you who has been involved in Skydancer in whatever small way over the last three years, even if just by following these blogs – from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

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July 14th, 2014

Jude Lane

Blog Post: Frontline diary – healthy options breakfast (Pancakes with blaeberry jam and skooshie cream)

Ever wondered what it would be like to be involved in round the clock protection of a rare breeding bird? With just three pairs of nesting hen harriers in England this year (there should be well over 300) we are at a point where their nests are so precious they need to be monitored 24 hours a day. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a number of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it’s like to be on the front line protecting England’s hen harriers. Hi Folks, Just in case you were worried about us wasting away on our nightshift on a diet of midge sandwiches and jammie dodgers, I thought I’d share with you one of our favorite seasonal breakfasts – Pancakes with Blaeberry Jam and Skooshie Cream. It’s rammed with calories and saturated fats so its just the kind of thing to perk you up as the sun comes up over the moor. Our hides have all mod cons and it’s a piece of cake (pun!) to rattle this up on our gas cooker. All you really need is a frying pan for the pancakes and small metal dixie for the jam. Here’s how to make it if you fancy trying it for yourselves:   Pancakes -  Best prepare the mix beforehand and carry to the hill in a small plastic bottle. No fuss, no mess. Make a basic mix from 1 egg, self raising flour, full fat milk and sugar. Tip – needs to be runny enough to come out the bottle! Prepare a very hot frying pan with a big knob of butter and pour in some pancake mix. Fry until golden brown. You can either make lots of smaller ones or some proper man size ones.   Blaeberry Jam -  Now that we are well into July there are tons of blaeberries (or bilberries for you English folk) ripening on the moor. Half a mugful makes enough jam for two. Put your berries in the dixie and cover with the same amount of sugar and add a wee drop water. Simmer the berries on a low heat til your jam starts to thicken.   Skooshie Cream -  Easy peasy! Just buy an aerosol of cream, it’s really nice if you can find the stuff with brandy or champagne flavour!   Serve artistically on a plate and enjoy while still hot … weetabix eat your heart out!!

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July 11th, 2014

Jude Lane

Blog Post: Front line diary – a constant state of awe

Ever wondered what it would be like to be involved in round the clock protection of a rare breeding bird? With just three pairs of nesting hen harriers in England this year (there should be well over 300) we are at a point where their nests are so precious they need to be monitored 24 hours a day. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a number of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it’s like to be on the front line protecting England’s hen harriers. A day for the hen harrier protection staff actually starts in the evening, a few hours before sundown. Myself and my three comrades trundle slowly along rocky tracks frequented by families of red grouse that bathe themselves in the dry dust (well, when thunderstorms aren’t rolling across the moors that is). While the others drive the truck, I’m always on the lookout for brown hares and other fantastic fauna such as stoats and adders before we arrive at the hides to relieve the day watch volunteers. There’s plenty to keep the amateur naturalist in a constant state of awe in this fantastic world I have the good fortune to be in for a while; plants, mosses and moths (heath bedstraw, sphagnum moss species and oak eggar moths are my latest finds). But all this of course is not why I am on the moors enduring constant midge invasions; I’m here to keep watch over two of the three known hen harrier nests in England this year. Juv stone chat … there’s always plenty to watch when the harriers aren’t flying. The overnight watches themselves are primarily taking place in order to ensure that the birds are not subject to any unnecessary disturbance; whether that be deliberate or accidental. The other part of my job requires me to record to the minute the details of the lives of the hen harriers; when the female stretches her wings, when the male passes food to her in wonderful mini aerial stunts known simply and creatively as ‘food passes’, or when the local terror of a merlin knocks a short-eared owl from the sky. This actually happened, and though I just missed it, I was in time to watch this lunatic falcon transfer his ferocity to the pair of hen harriers. Bringing some joy into the dark stretch of the night (the night shift has its fair share of uneventful waiting time) I have to thank the wood mice. Happy to meander about the hide, it is a bonus for them if they ‘happen’ to find a few biscuit crumbs about the place. As they become increasingly used to being watched by torch light, they are becoming like unofficial project mascots to the night staff as we await their arrival each night. So, myself and others wait in the hides, our coffees, biscuits and scopes to hand, watching from afar to avoid disturbing our ‘wards’. Our watch lasts until 8am when volunteers arrive and we can stretch our legs, thaw out and look forward to catching up on sleep – but not before my obligatory search for basking adders on the rocks adjacent to patches of heather … and then we start again, night after night. I still cannot believe I have this incredible job; a tiny neurotic part of my psyche is awaiting the revelation that it’s all a practical joke; another part however, is saddened by the realisation that my good fortune in this role is a result of the near eradication of this raptor from the English countryside. I wish it were not a necessary task, but I am proud to have a role in ensuring the future of such a beautiful jewel in the crown of England’s moorlands.

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