Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category

Blog Post: Gamekeepers at the Lottery Awards

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
After months of build-up, excitement, and suspense, it finally happened – Skydancer appeared on the National Lottery Awards Show last Friday night at 10.45pm (11.30pm in Scotland)! In case you missed it (and let’s face it, I doubt if anyone in Scotland could keep their eyes open long enough following a sleepless night of referendum results), you can catch it on BBC iPlayer here until Friday. After that, you’ll still be able to watch the short film we shot with Chris Packham in Bowland on YouTube here . Skydancer receives a National Lottery Award for Best Education Project 2014.  It was an amazing feeling to see the work of the project celebrated on a national stage and especially to see hen harriers put firmly in the spotlight. After the award ceremony, the project team and I received loads of lovely feedback from other projects, celebrities, and guests, with one person even commenting, “Watching your film, I feel like I actually learned something tonight.”  For a project whose main aim is to raise awareness, what more could we possibly ask for than that? Those of you that did see it may have noticed the young man who came up on stage with me to collect the award. Perhaps my speech was too long, or perhaps too rambling (I didn’t think so), but the only pity of the night was that any mention of him or why he was there was cut from the final edit of the show.  For me, his presence was one of the most important points of the night, so I want to take a moment to offer some explanation here. The young man in question is Ryan Mort, a level 3 Gamekeeping student from Askham Bryan College in York. He is one of over 100 gamekeeping and countryside management students who’ve taken part in Skydancer workshops over the last three years, debating, discussing and exploring the issues of hen harriers and grouse shooting from all points of view (read more here ). The student feedback from these workshops has been fantastic with comments including: " If I was an upland keeper, I would consider ways to promote hen harriers ." " Extremely informative " " I believe now that with the right attitudes and the right methods, hen harriers and gamekeeping can coexist ." " Didn’t know much about hen harriers before but know a lot now. Found it very helpful and it changed my opinion slightly as I seen it from another point of view ." Askham Bryan staff and students following a Skydancer workshop, June 2014. At the end of every workshop, we take a vote in favour or against encouraging hen harriers to nest alongside grouse shooting. At the final workshop I ran back in June before leaving Skydancer, for the first time ever (and that includes when I’ve done these workshops with general high schools and youth groups) we had a unanimous vote in favour of hen harriers – from a roomful of gamekeeping students. Brian Sweeney, who runs the gamekeeping course at Askham Bryan, was also with us at the Awards. Brian is a fantastic advocate for what he terms a modern, enlightened approach to gamekeeping – game management that supports a whole suite of biodiversity, including birds of prey like hen harriers – and he has played no small part in the success of these workshops. Illegal persecution and intolerance remain the biggest threats facing hen harriers today. However students like Ryan, and the positive influence of Brian and his colleagues, give me real hope for a generational shift in attitudes towards these magnificent birds.  Who’d ever have predicted that a member of RSPB staff and a gamekeeping student would be standing side by side to collect an award for education work to promote hen harrier conservation? It is not the whole solution but it is a significant step in the right direction and to me, that is definitely something worth celebrating. Ryan Mort, Brian Sweeney and Blánaid Denman at the National Lottery Awards, 2014. � We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

Blog Post: Skydancer Glams It Up

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
Skydancer has won Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014. We were shortlisted from over 750 projects across the UK. Last Friday representatives of the Skydancer team, including past project officer Blánaid Denman, and a gamekeeping student from Askham Bryan College, put on their party frocks to film the glitzy award ceremony in London. Skydancer's Amanda Miller and Blánaid Denman at the National Lottery Awards This ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One this Friday, 19 th September, at 10.35pm.  This will be a great opportunity to share our messages about the plight of the hen harrier and the positive work we are doing to help its conservation.  It is also well-deserved recognition for all those who have worked hard to make this project a success. In August we spent a fantastic day making the film that will be shown at the awards ceremony. Families from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss Phoenix and Wildlife Explorers clubs were thrilled to meet presenter Chris Packham and learn all about hen harriers with the Skydancer project. Even more special was the appearance of hen harriers flying over the moorland, as if on cue, to accept the award. Chris Packham making the BBC Lottery Award film in Bowland - Photo: David Tolliday The star-studded awards ceremony is hosted by John Barrowman with Jade Jagger, John Torode, Tinchy Stryder among the celebrities presenting the awards. Plus, there are performances from Ella Henderson and Pixie Lott. Past project officer Blánaid Denman says: “Hopefully, this award will help us make a difference to breeding hen harriers in England. I want to thank all those who have supported the project, the people who have taken part and everyone who voted.”

Blog Post: Pastures new.

Monday, September 15th, 2014
Hi there Skydancer followers. I’m temporarily stepping into the breach whilst still keeping one eye on the day job of working with Bowland’s farmers to help conserve wading birds. If you’re not already aware of the project please take a look here as it’s not only harriers keeping us busy in Bowland. Firstly I’d like to wish two special ladies well: Jude obviously who’s been a pleasure to work with and a fantastic asset to the team. I know for a fact everyone who’s worked with Jude and been involved with hen harrier conservation will miss her. Jude has headed north of the border to take up a new adventure with the spectacular gannets of Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. The second special lady is Highlander, one of the harrier chicks fledged from the first nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate this year. She’s been heading north and east too and since leaving Bowland has wandered to the West Pennine Moors, not too far from here  where the RSPB has also been rather busy trying to improve the prospects for our precious upland habitats and species and then finally on into the Yorkshire Dales where she remains as I type. Highlander's track since leaving her Bowland nest site. So what of the other harriers from this year’s Bowland nests? Well in the past week, Highlander’s sister Sky has been wandering widely but remaining within Bowland. From the second nest, Burt has still not ventured very far from northern Bowland (Jude was spot on when she described him as sedentary!) whilst his sister Hope has a little more wanderlust having seemingly been visiting every nook and cranny of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but still reluctant to leave Bowland. With the settled, warm, sunny weather here at present and a plentiful supply of voles and meadow pipits on the fell who can blame them. I can assure you that it’s far more thrilling to see a Hen Harrier in the flesh than watching their movements on a computer screen so why not get out there and try and spot one! With a good breeding season up on the fells and harriers arriving from further afield, now is a very good time to try and see one of these majestic birds quartering our stunning uplands. If you are lucky enough to see one, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at henharriers@rspb.org.uk or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate).  Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible.

Blog Post: The private life of hen harriers

Friday, September 5th, 2014
Now is the time of year when hen harrier chicks have fledged the nest. Adults and juveniles may stay close by for the winter, while others can move to communal winter roosts in coastal areas, wetland or reed beds. Some have been known to go as far as France or Spain. This video “ The private life of hen harriers ” is an oldie but a goodie, a film following the eggs through to fledging. It was filmed under special licence, by remote cameras, at a secret location in North Tynedale in 2008. This is footage of the last known successful hen harrier nest in Northumberland. If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please call The Harrier Hotline number on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports can also be e-mailed to henharriers@rspb.org.uk. Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible. All filming was carried out under licence by Cyaneus Photography. The hen harrier is a Schedule 1 species. Disturbance of these species may only by undertaken by licensed individuals. This footage was obtained under a licence provided by Natural England.

Blog Post: Hope and Burt are still in Bowland!

Friday, August 29th, 2014
As promised, here is the second of what I hope will be many updates from Bowland's sat tagged harriers. Hope and Burt, sister and brother, fitted with sat tags on the 28th July have been flying for about 4.5 weeks now. They are a full month younger than Skydancer and Highlander and those four weeks are very obvious when looking at the downloads from their satellite transmitters. Where Skydancer and Highlander are now very independent and have almost cut the ties with their nest area, Hope and Burt are still very reliant on the area from which they fledged. You can see from the maps below, both Hope and Burt, although they are making forays away from their nest site, are still returning to the nest area presumably when they maybe haven't eaten for a while and decide their best bet is to head back to where they know they can catch prey or where they know they might still come into some reassuring contact with one of their parents or siblings. It is especially apparent when looking at Hope's data that her flight paths are almost creating the shape of a star as she makes explorations in all directions of the compass from the nest area. In a few weeks time she probably wont be creating these patterns anymore and she'll have decided on an area, with a good food source and suitable roosting areas, to settle down in for a while. But ... you never know. The first rule with hen harriers is ... never second guess a hen harrier, as we learnt so well with Bowland Betty . An interesting observation is how much further afield Hope is travelling in comparison to Burt. Is this a male/female trait or just a difference between these two individuals? Male birds tagged by Stephen Murphy in the past have gone as far as France and northern Spain. Only time will tell us where Burt will decide to head.   Hope's locations over the last 5 days. Burt's more sedentary activity!  

Blog Post: Is it a buzzard or is it a hen harrier!?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Adult male and female hen harriers look very different, sexually dimorphic. They both have long wings and tail with a white rump (a great ID feature). They fly with their wings raised in a shallow ‘V’, flying close to the ground when hunting. The male is blue/grey above with white underparts and black wing tips and trailing edge. Male Hen harrier The female is very similar to the young, to keep them camouflaged while on the nest. The collective term is ‘Ringtail’ due to the brown bands on their tails. They are brown above with barred wings and a streaked breast. Their face has an owl like appearance. Female Hen harrier A buzzard may be confused with a hen harrier; one way to help with this is look at what habitat it is in. In the breeding season hen harriers are found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Buzzards are the most frequently seen medium-sized birds of prey. They have broader wings and shorter tails than the harriers or red kites. Their plumage can vary from a uniform dark brown to much paler colours. Underneath they have dark shoulders with a pale mid-wing and adults have a dark trailing edge. A good ID feature is a pale band around their chest and no owl like face. Buzzard If you see a hen harrier, please call The Harrier Hotline number on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate) .  Reports can also be e-mailed to henharriers@rspb.org.uk .  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

Blog Post: Great turn out at Glendale Show

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Thank you to all the people who dropped in for a chat and some hen harrier arts and crafts at Glendale Show on bank holiday Monday. Some great conversations were had with lots of children and adults as well as a hunter from Malta with her daughter and a local game keeper showing his support. We will be at Bellingham Show this Saturday 30 th Aug, stop by to make your own flappy hen harrier or a hen harrier chick. Follow us on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .

Blog Post: Tracking harriers – introducing Bowland’s Burt, Hope, Highlander and Sky

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
So we’ve had a few technical IT issues here but we are now up and running and I’m extremely pleased to be able to bring you the first update from some of the young harriers satellite tagged this year on the United Utilities Bowland estate. So far so good for the two young from the first nest, Sky and Highlander , who have been flying for about 7 weeks now. You can see they are still very active in Bowland but are starting to branch out and explore right across the AONB. (c) RSPB. Sky and Highlander 19th Aug 2014   I also have the pleasure of introducing Hope and Burt, two of the tagged harriers from the second nest. They were named by children from the local RSPB Wildlife Explorer groups and were fitted with their tags on the 28 th July.       (c) Jude Lane, RSPB. Burt (top) and Hope (bottom) having their satellite tags fitted by Stephen Murphy, Natural England. Burt and Hope have been flying for less than 3 weeks but are already become adept at the technique of food passing. Their parents are still dilagently practicing with them after almost three months of complete dedication to their brood of four, little known to them, incredibly important young hen harriers. As the weeks pass they too will start to explore further and further afield and who knows, in a few weeks some may even have got as far as  France .     (c) RSPB. Burt and Hope 18th Aug 2014   Over the following weeks, months and hopefully years you will be able to follow the progress of these four birds here on this blog. I was privileged enough to be present when they were all satellite tagged by Stephen Murphy from Natural England. It’s hard not to form a bond with such superb birds especially when you have held them in your hands. I hope that you will also come to know them from these blogs. You never know, maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to actually see one of them (if you do give us a call on the hen harrier hotline ). Either way, enjoy learning about their travels and please pass on the link to this blog to friends, family, schools and any one else who you think will enjoy getting to know these iconic birds. What I think we are all hoping is that like Grainne and Hettie from Langholm , Sky, Highlander, Burt and Hope will all be back in the English uplands raising broods of their own next summer. Fingers crossed.

Blog Post: Front line diary – They came, they danced, they thrived

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
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 hen harrier nesting 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. This is the last posting of a series of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it is like to be on the front line protecting England’s hen harriers. From the Amor twinkle of their father’s eyes to the fully fledged nine, yes I said nine, cheeky young hen harriers that are now making their way around the United Kingdom and beyond in a bid to survive and thrive well what can we say? The outcome of this year’s project couldn’t be better and I am sure that we all hope the success will carry on for years to come so these jewels of the sky will once again become a common site across our stunning moorland landscapes for all to enjoy. Photo (c) Chris Beever. Female and male hen harrier at Bowland. So as another Skydancer season comes to a close just as the shooting season on the moor starts, and as all involved in watching and protecting these magnificent birds of prey breath a sigh of relief that the young male and female harriers are venturing to new parts, and of course as all of the staff involved reach critical levels of blood loss due to the onslaught of the mighty midge, I suppose its time to start winding down the project and reflect on a stunning experience for all involved. From the first signs of the harriers in the harsh late winter battling their way through the elements to their courting grounds, to the dazzling displays of the males as they strut their stuff dancing in the Bowland sky in the early spring, to the first signs of new life, we have been there and seen it all and enjoyed every minute. From the volunteers who braved the upland moor extremes of weather, often walking miles to get to the observation points in the wind and the rain, all of which I may add should receive an award for there dedication, to the people like us - the species protection officers that have been living, thriving, diversionary feeding and enjoying our job during the day and night within this stunning but often wet and windy landscape deep in the forest of Bowland. Spending time on the moor gives a whole new outlook of this threatened habitat from the bleak lifeless days of early spring to explosions of colour and life of the early summer, and seeing not only the hen harriers thrive but also the other local wildlife population multiply due to the presence of a dedicated team of volunteers and staff of the RSPB only goes to show that with a little help and understanding, the moors will be a haven for wildlife and a stunning place to visit for years to come. There is a growing amount of politics involved with the processes and daily running of the upland moors in our stunning nation but this year’s project has proved that if all parties are willing and an understanding is reached the wildlife occupants of the moor will bounce back, and if that means that myself and my colleges have to brave the elements to complete diversionary feeding then so be it! Let’s just give nature a chance. Photo (c) RSPB. Highlander (left) and Sky (right) as named by pupils at Brennand's Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn. So alas, it is time for me and the rest of the team to pack away the biscuits, eat the last of the cakes, take down the cosy two and a half star B&B`s (The Hides) and retrieve what is left of our equipment that has partly been devoured by the local mouse population and head back to our semi normal lives around the country until it’s time to once again wait in anticipation for the hen harriers return to our upland moors in 2015. A last word must go out to all of the people who have supported this project from the youth hostel staff and other accommodation providers who have made the protection staff welcome and comfortable to the school kids who have give our harriers names and the education staff that have showed an interest to the project, not forgetting the people of Slaidburn who have made us all welcome and to the shooting tenant and staff that have assisted the project with open arms and minds.       This has been an experience to remember and be proud of, I am sure that all involved are as proud as me and the team to have been a part of such a worthwhile project. Please keep checking on the Skydancer website to hear updates about the harriers and don’t forget to look after your local feathered friends this winter. So until next year its good bye from them (the harriers) and good bye from us (the watchers), toodaloo! Photo (c) Chris Beever, end of season volunteer BBQ

Blog Post: Skydancer has won a National Lottery Award!

Monday, August 18th, 2014
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.

Blog Post: Hen Harrier Day in Pictures

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
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!

Comment on Tracking the future of hen harriers

Sunday, August 10th, 2014
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.

Blog Post: Tracking the future of hen harriers

Friday, August 8th, 2014
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. 

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

Monday, July 28th, 2014
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.

Blog Post: School children ‘adopt’ the Bowland harriers

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
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.

Blog Post: Birders Against Wildlife Crime hen harrier podcasts

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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! 

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

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
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! www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer Every vote counts - thank you!

Blog Post: Four more harriers in Bowland!

Thursday, July 17th, 2014
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!    

Blog Post: Five more years of hen harrier conservation

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
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.

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

Monday, July 14th, 2014
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!!