Blog Post: The fortunes of England’s hen harriers in 2018

As the breeding season draws to a close, we take some time to reflect on the breeding success of hen harriers in England in 2018. Hen harrier numbers have been declining steadily in England over the past few decades. It is well known from independent research that the main reason for this decline is illegal killing of these birds associated with driven grouse moor management in northern England. Last year, hen harriers were very close to extinction as a breeding bird in England, with just three successful nests fledging 10 chicks in 2017, all in Northumberland. We were hopeful that this population would be bolstered when the birds we tagged in the Scottish borders, Marc and Manu , flew south into Durham and Northumberland respectively. However, this optimism was short lived and we were devastated to find that these birds suspiciously disap...

Blog Post: We Will Win

Today we have a guest blog from Dara McAnulty, the young Fermanagh naturalist , who reminds us that there's always something we can do to help hen harriers. I remember the first time I wittingly saw a raptor, I was five and I became entranced. The RSPB visited my school soon after to talk about red kites and the fascination grew into obsession. I constantly scanned the skies for a glimpse of majesty.   The hen harrier was the holy grail, but I didn’t catch my first encounter until I was 12. After that point, my life was irrevocably changed. It wasn’t just the beauty and sheer brilliance of flight engineering - it was the iconic nature of the species. It was a symbol of the desecration of our wildlife and our countryside.  I followed these birds through the seasons and rejoiced in their offspring and their ever giving wonder and joy....

Blog Post: Nos da to our tagged Welsh hen harrier: Lia’s journey is over

Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, shares the sad news of the loss of a second tagged hen harrier in Wales in suspicious circumstances. At this time of year, our Hen Harrier LIFE project team are very busy monitoring birds, protecting nests and satellite tagging juveniles. As we get caught up in the elation and optimism that a new generation of this rare bird brings, it was a timely reminder of their potential fates when we received the post mortem results for Lia, one of our Welsh hen harriers. Hen harriers were once widespread in Wales, but following a long history of illegal persecution and eventual extinction on mainland Britain as a breeding bird, the hen harrier finally came back to Wales in the 1950s. Since then, the Welsh population has slowly recovered, but it continues to vary greatly in size from year to year...

Blog Post: Silent spring? Saorsa, Finn and Blue all suddenly disappear

Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, reports on the sudden disappearance of three tagged hen harriers in suspicious circumstances With the arrival of spring, we look forward to the warmer weather kickstarting the growth of new flowers as buds burst into life. Animals start to appear again, some rousing sleepily from their hibernation. We dust ourselves off after the long winter, ready for a summer of activity. Our hen harriers become more active too as they begin to move away from their winter roosts, making longer flights towards upland areas to scope out potential nesting sites, ready to pair up and raise a brood of their own. Here at the Hen Harrier LIFE project, we already have reports of skydancing males, pair bonding and nest building. We watch with anticipation to see if our tagged birds will settle and try to rai...

Blog Post: Same Old Story?

Today we have a guest blog from Findlay Wilde, a 16 year old conservationist, ringer, birder, environmental blogger and campaigner. Findlay is working hard to protect nature, and raise awareness about hen harrier persecution.   Whenever I get asked to write a blog about my thoughts and feelings towards hen harriers, I start with such enthusiasm, but as I get into the detail I feel my energy start to fade, in just the same way our hen harrier numbers are fading away. As I write this, the news that Aalin has gone missing is fresh in my mind. News like this instantly turns my thoughts to Finn , and when I heard about Aalin going missing I automatically checked my emails to see if a recent update had come through on Finn’s whereabouts. Fortunately she continues to do well; against the odds.   When this blog is posted, I can almost sense so...

Blog Post: Another Skydancer lost: Aalin disappears in Wales

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager explains that today we have more sad news about another bird, this time from the Hen Harrier Class of 2016. The population of hen harriers on the Isle of Man almost halved between 2004 and 2010, dropping from 57 to 29 pairs. No one was quite sure why this might be, but one theory was that young hen harriers could be migrating to the UK mainland and not returning, so we hoped that putting satellite tags on birds born on the island would help us to solve the mystery. In July 2016, we tagged a bird named Aalin, on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the island that year, and spent the winter of 2016 in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017. The regular transmissions we received from her tag showed that she stayed in north Wales, unt...

Blog Post: Blood brothers: Manu’s brother Marc also disappears

RSPB Investigations Liaison Officer, Jenny Shelton, sheds more light on the disappearances of two hen harrier siblings, Marc and Manu, in similarly unsettling circumstances. Manu (left) and Marc (right) as nestlings (image by Tim Jones) If a mother hen harrier could give her chicks any words of wisdom, it might be this: stay away from grouse moors. Moorland is the natural habitat of these birds, but a number of them have disappeared over moorland areas managed for driven grouse shooting. The latest casualty is Marc, a bird who was satellite tagged in the Scottish Borders in 2017, along with his brother Manu, as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project. Marc’s tag had been functioning perfectly, showing him flying around hills and upland farmland all winter. Then, at the end of January 2018, he decided to explore a new area...

Blog Post: Class of 2017 update: Sirius and Eric die of natural causes

RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas gives an update on the class of 2017. The winter months can be hard for young hen harriers, and it’s a worrying time to monitor them. With poor weather, difficult foraging conditions, and the risk of illegal persecution, every day they survive feels like a small victory. That’s why I am sad to confirm the natural demise of more of the class of 2017.  Back in August 2017, we proudly added the journeys of 12 young hen harriers to our project website where we provide regular updates on their movements. First we lost  Calluna , who disappeared on 12 th  August on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. We were able to retrieve Mannin after his failed sea crossing from the Isle of Man on 14 th August. On 18 th October, Manu disappeared over moorland at Blenkinsopp Commo...

Blog Post: Two more hen harriers go missing

RSPB's Project Manager for Hen Harrier LIFE, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, provides an update on the class of 2017. Through a career in conservation, you have the privilege of working with some amazing wildlife, but you also have to face the reality that most individuals will never fulfil their full potential, due to the threats they face on a daily basis. As I’ve followed the journeys of the juvenile hen harriers in the class of 2017 , it’s been difficult to remain hopeful for our youngsters, in the face of an uncertain fate. First we lost Calluna , whose satellite tag transmissions stopped abruptly on 12 th August on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, then on 14 th August there was Mannin ’s failed sea crossing from the Isle of Man. I’m sad to report that we have now lost a further three birds. Sirius was a male hen harrier, w...

Blog Post: Introducing Cathleen

Our new(ish) Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager Dr Cathleen Thomas reflects on her first few months in the role. Avid followers may have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. Some of you will know that Blánaid Denman left the Hen Harrier LIFE project in August to become the RSPB’s Area Conservation Manager for the North East and Cumbria. Blánaid has done some great work on the project and we’re sad to see her go, but the baton has been passed on and I now have the privilege of managing the Hen Harrier LIFE project through to its end. I’ve had a mind boggling couple of months getting up to speed with our hen harriers as the project reaches the halfway point. This year we satellite tagged more birds than ever before and it’s amazing to see how much we’re learning about their dispersal and range, provid...