Blog Post: Happy hen harrier family

Great news for a Friday - a recent routine check of DeeCee's nest in Argyll, carried out by RSPB staff under full appropriate licences, has revealed a healthy brood of five chicks! Hen harrier DeeCee's healthy brood of five chicks. Can you spot the tiny youngest in the middle?  You'll need to look really closely to spot them all. Like many birds of prey, hen harriers lay their eggs a day at a time and they hatch consecutively in the order in which they were laid. This means that the eldest of DeeCee's chicks has at least a five day's start on the youngest, and being bigger, is able to gobble up the lion's share of the food that the adult male brings to the nest. Field voles are a vital food source for hen harriers throughout the breeding season but numbers of voles naturally vary widely from year to year, often showing what's known as boom and bust cycles. This size difference in the chicks is nature's way of ensuring that even in years of few voles when there's a shortage of food, the eldest chicks have a good chance of surviving and fledging successfully.  Fortunately, you'll be pleased to hear that DeeCee has very sensibly chosen to nest in an area which, at the time of the visit, seemed bursting with voles and small birds like meadow pipits, so with any luck, there'll be plenty of food to sustain all five of her young brood.  DeeCee as a newly satellite-tagged chick alongside her siblings. (Image: Brian Etheridge)  All being well and with permission from the landowner, we'll be returning in a few short weeks to fit the eldest chick with a satellite tag to match its mum's. It will be fascinating to see if this young harrier follows in the footsteps of its parent or whether it does something different entirely. Watch this space...!  For more information about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer

Comment on Hen harrier Class of 2016: an update

I'm so pleased that some of the birds are still with us. Lets also hope that the recent events in Scotland will reduce the persecution there, but be prepared for that not to happen. Can I also ask those in Scotland to write to their MSPs to ensure the law is changed to allow  video evidence in court.

Blog Post: Hen harrier Class of 2016: an update

As I sit at my desk with every window in the office open and the sun beating through the glass, it feels as though the year has abandoned any thought of Spring and skipped straight to Summer. Long may it last! It’s also a reminder (as if I needed one) that we are rapidly approaching the thick of the hen harrier breeding season, and my thoughts are naturally with our five remaining satellite-tagged females from 2016. What will these young birds, barely even a year old, make of their first true summer and will they survive to see another autumn? The news of a hen harrier shooting allegedly witnessed in broad daylight only weeks ago, near Leadhills in Southwest Scotland, has done little to calm my nerves. For now however, I am delighted and hugely relieved to say that all five birds are alive and doing well. Not only that but against all the indications of their youth, at least three of our females are now confirmed breeding, with a fourth seemingly not far behind! Harriet – a history-making young bird as one of the first hen harriers in living memory to fledge from the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, Harriet spent all winter in the Lake District but come Spring, clearly felt the pull of home. She returned to Mar Lodge briefly in April but has since gone wandering around the East of Scotland. When the data from her tag showed she had started sticking tightly to one area of Perthshire, we sent the team to look for her on the ground and sure enough, she is now sitting on a full clutch of eggs! ( Image: Shaila Rao ) DeeCee – from a private estate in Perthshire, our DeeCee never showed much inclination to leave the familiar ground of the Cairngorms. That was until all of a sudden in April, she started yo-yoing between there and the west coast of Scotland, making day-trips to Jura and Mull and back again. This incredible behaviour serves to show just how far and how quickly hen harriers can travel, and how unpredictable those movements can be. She has now settled somewhere in the middle, in the mainland area of  Argyll & Bute, and once again when our team went to look, they found her sitting on a full clutch of 5 eggs! ( Image: Brian Etheridge ) Finn – our one remaining English bird, Finn left Northumberland very shortly after fledging and has made a steady westward tour of the Scottish Borders, ultimately settling in South Ayrshire for the winter months. Unlike DeeCee and Harriet though, it would seem she didn’t need to travel quite so far to find an attractive breeding site, as in the last couple of weeks, she has been discovered sitting on a nest with eggs in an area of Southwest Scotland! ( Image: Martin Davison ) Aalin – this Manx beauty is proving a source of endless fascination as the first harrier officially to have been recorded leaving the Isle of Man for mainland Britain. She was spotted at a local nature reserve in Warrington in November, before making her way south to spend the winter over an area of farmland in Shropshire. The last of our hen harriers to forsake her wintering grounds this Spring, Aalin has only just recently moved across into North Wales. We wondered if she could be getting ready to make the leap across the water and back to her island home but it seems she may have found a reason to stay... as she’s been spotted dallying with a grey male over some very suitable looking habitat. Will she stay or will she go? Watch this space...! ( Image: Sean Gray ) Wendy – from Coulport MOD on the West Coast of Scotland, Wendy was the most sedentary of all our tagged harriers over winter, making herself very comfortable on the Isle of Mull from October right through until April. Of course she now seems to be making up for lost time and is apparently the only one of our young birds still determined to wander, though still no great distances. Most recently, she has been spending time in an area just to the west of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. ( Image: John Simpson ) Normally when people ask me about first-year hen harriers, I’d say they don’t usually breed in their first year but it can certainly happen. Donald Watson, the eminent hen harrier scholar himself, noted proportions of first year hen harriers breeding in a population ranging from 8-30%. However that three, possibly four, out of five of our tagged birds have had the opportunity to breed in their first summer does seem remarkable. Given the sensitivities of the breeding season and the need to protect the locations of both our nesting females and any other nesting hen harriers that may be in the same areas, we have temporarily stopped updating the maps on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website . I’m sure you can appreciate the need for this and rest assured, you can still get the latest updates from our tagged birds on this blog and on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer . Thanks to generous funding from LUSH cosmetics through the sales of their Skydancer bathbomb, this summer we have plans to fit satellite tags to hen harriers across a wider range of places than ever before – from Wales to Orkney, and as many places in between as possible! If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that hen harriers travel widely and unpredictably, so if we want to protect them in one area, we need to protect them wherever they may be. I look forward to resuming our usual schedule of updates in the autumn, when with any luck, we’ll have a whole new cohort of young hen harriers ready to share their exciting journeys with you. In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog and twitter - who knows what the next few months will bring?  Watch this space... --- To find out more about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Join Bo the hen harrier at Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017

Originally from London but a resident of Lancashire for 17 years with a love of the surrounding countryside and wildlife, Helen Ficorilli is the Programme Director of the Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival, which has taken up residence in the Forest of Bowland over the last seven years. Here she tells us why a female hen harrier has this year been taken up as the emblem for this annual event.    Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival returns to Gisburn Forest within Forest of Bowland AONB for it’s 7 th outing for the last weekend of July.  More pocket sized than boutique, this unique festival has captured the imagination and support of regional and national plaudits which include The Guardian, The Big Issue, Radio 6Music DJs and the high number of returning family audiences.  In a location managed by the Forestry Commission England, Cloudspotting has the support from the FCE and the Arts Council to bring high level quality arts engagement into the forest, an area of traditional low arts representation. Home to some of the most stunning scenery and delicate wildlife habitats in Britain we have always encouraged our audience to explore the surrounding forest and engage with the local wildlife.  This has led to us incorporating environmental issues into our activities programme to deliver important ecological messages of responsibility to an ever-increasing family audience. In 2016 Bowland AONB brought their Bowland Hay Time project to the festival and ran workshops, activities and discussions about the importance of wild meadows to support the animals and insects who inhabit our festival location.  These animals include wild birds and from that our Birds of Bowland Project began to take wings... So why a Hen Harrier? We wanted to make birds that are native to Bowland a focus for our festival this year and we needed to recruit someone to help promote this.  After research and discussions with the RSPB, Bowland AONB and Forestry Commission we realised that the Hen Harrier, although not alone on the endangered list, had the highest profile and its recent loss from the local area has gained the most notoriety.  Just the fact that there was a national project dedicated to the survival of this extremely rare and beautiful bird of prey made their profile even more attractive.  Threatened with extinction this bird has a national network of supporters who scour the skies and nesting locations hoping for a rare sighting of this bird.  The Hen Harrier whose Latin name means “circus” has a magical awe surrounding it, an almost mythical existence; and a festival, a temporary world of escapism seemed like the perfect place for a Hen Harrier to be spotted. We immediately commissioned local illustrator and sculptor Kerith Ogden to bring the Hen Harrier to Cloudspotting.  Our brief was to create an image which we could use throughout our promotional activities of the festival.  An image we could use with our logo but with a tribal imagery all of its own.  When we saw the initial drawings we were blown away by the grace and beauty of our bird and we needed to give her a name.  But it had to be the right name.  A few options were bounded about which included Hetty, Jen and even Rhythm (….is a sky dancer!) but the overall obvious choice was Bo.  Bo after our location, the beautiful Forest of Bowland and Boudicca another formidable female warrior.  Have you met Bo yet? Since then, Bo has become another member of the Cloudspotting team. Visually appealing, she has featured on all our promotional materials including flyers, posters, website, social media, banners etc.  Bo will also feature at the festival where we will reveal the second commission of Kerith, Bo the parade puppet lantern.  A huge 3D version of Bo with lights and a whopping flapping wingspan of 3.5m.  Bo will tour the festival site leading our rhythmical bird themed parade, dance the night away to our local reggae band Jeramiah Ferrari and finally take her nesting position in the Village Green for the remainder of the festival.  Learning through play Working in partnership with the RSPB and other activities/arts associates, our Birds of Bowland project has developed immensely to weave throughout our weekend activities programme.  Inclusive, engaging, educational and creative our arts package includes Bo and her other feathered friends involved in a variety of activities.  These include the opportunity to join the Cloudspotting Choir.  Rehearse throughout the weekend to perform Three Little Birds from the main stage on Sunday afternoon.  Join other crafters for regular knit’n’chirp sessions to knit your own Bo.  Leave the festival for a trek through the forest on our sculpture trail where you will discover 8ft bird; or be a part in the creation of a huge piece of community art adding colour to our huge canvas Bo.  These are just a few of the linked activities and workshops available; for more information please visit our activities page on our website . But our work with Bo doesn’t stop there.  We are so taken with Bo she will feature on artwork for future Cloudspotting events.  We have already been asked to tour Bo and the community developed artwork from the festival to regional galleries and libraries where we will produce narrative to support the images and continue to deliver the messages of the RSPB to support our local wildlife so that we can all live together, harmoniously in our modern world For more information about Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017, please have a look at our website or visit our facebook page.    

Blog Post: Another shot hen harrier… how many more?

This is not the news I wanted to wake up to. Just weeks after the Crown Office discontinued a high-profile case against a former gamekeeper for the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier despite clear video evidence, another hen harrier shooting has come to light. Police Scotland issued an appeal this morning, for information relating to the lethal shooting of a hen harrier near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. You can read the response from RSPB Scotland here . Fortunately and exceptionally, “a number of witnesses” have apparently come forward but whether that’s enough to secure a prosecution remains to be seen. After all, if video evidence , clearly showing a hen harrier being shot out of the sky and its body retrieved by a man with his face in full view of the camera, isn’t enough to secure a conviction or even a court case, it’s hard to know what burden of proof is necessary. The message seems to be that those who wish to illegally kill our protected birds of prey can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they’re unlikely to be held to account. Still of film footage taken on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013, showing a man removing the body of a recently shot hen harrier. Despite this, police are now appealing for CCTV evidence in this latest case. Anyone with any information at all should contact Police Scotland on 101. A hen harrier illegally shot and killed in 2013 and another in 2017... It goes without saying that any hen harrier shot is one too many but with four years between them, could these just be random isolated incidents? Not when you start filling in the blanks... January 2017 – hen harrier Carroll found dead in Northumberland of natural causes having previously survived being shot October 2016 – hen harrier Rowan found shot dead in Cumbria September 2015 – hen harrier Lad found with “injuries consistent with shooting ” in the Cairngorms April 2015 – hen harrier Annie found shot dead near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire June 2013 – video evidence recorded of a hen harrier being shot dead on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, and a man retrieving the body June 2012  – hen harrier Bowland Betty found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales Body of a young male hen harrier, Lad, found with "injuries consistent with shooting" just months after fledging. And that’s not to mention the number of satellite tagged hen harriers which have suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared – most notably in relation to recent events,  Chance , who vanished in May 2016, just a few miles from where Annie was found shot and near to where this most recent shooting has been witnessed. These are not isolated incidents. Collectively, they reveal a very clear picture of how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. As I said in my last blog, our ability to uphold the law is only as good as our ability to enforce it and we are working hard to insist these issues be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, together with the Raptor Study Groups and wider conservation community, we will continue to monitor and protect our hen harriers wherever possible. Satellite tagging is providing an unprecedented window into this world and through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, we plan to tag more hen harriers in 2017 than ever before. Whatever happens next, we will be watching. To follow the fortunes of our remaining satellite tagged hen harriers and find out more about our work to protect these stunning skydancers, visit www.rspb.org.uk or follow us @RSPB_Skydancer .    

Comment on Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

I am absolutely appalled at this decision. Someone in the criminal justice system has decided that the RSPB may not monitor raptor nest sites in Scotland, but if they do and detect criminality, that even viewing of a criminal act that this evidence can not be used in court. I have written to all my MSPs and although I was not able to be reasonable in my screed, I shall persist and if necessary meet each one to get a face to face response.  The organised criminal activity of driven grouse shooting has people in many places prepared to assist those who break the law, and the law needs to be changed to make this loophole closed to the organised criminals and their supporters. I shall draft a proposed change to the law to show how simple this would be. I believe that the RSPB should do the same. I would urge RSPB members in Scotland to contact their MSPs

Blog Post: Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

In case you missed it, RSPB have just published film footage of a former gamekeeper allegedly shooting a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, in June 2013, retrieving the body, and cleaning up the feathers after himself. After almost four years of waiting, court proceedings were dropped two weeks ago by the Crown Office, who indicated that after considering all of the relevant material, they couldn't use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court. However, it's only today that the Crown Office has explained the rationale behind this decision. Here' s the official response from RSPB Scotland: We do not agree with the opinion from the Crown Office that we were attempting to gather evidence for a prosecution. We installed a camera to monitor a protected breeding bird’s nest site, core business for a conservation organisation. We did not share the information about the nest site with anyone, as would be the case with any rare and vulnerable breeding bird species. The fact that an individual came and allegedly shot the female harrier, and that this was captured on film, was an incidental consequence of the camera’s deployment, in the same way that it could easily have captured footage of the nest being naturally predated or failing due to bad weather. It is very disappointing that the opportunity for the court to consider the issue of the admissibility or otherwise of this evidence, as has happened in previous cases, has been removed. Until today, we have received no rationale for the decision to drop the case despite the fact that a number of our staff have provided significant time and expertise in supporting the authorities with the prosecution case. Watch the footage for yourself here .  Full details in the original press release here .  We have now written to the Lord Advocate and are seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications. Clearly the laws that protect our wildlife are only as good as our ability to uphold them.  If video footage of this quality isn't sufficient to secure a prosecution, then the question remains... what is?

Blog Post: Skydancer from Russia with love

The RSPB's Bowland Project Officer James Bray gives the lowdown on Bowland's special new visitor. RSPB staff and volunteers on the United Utilities estate in Bowland are out in the hills monitoring and protecting birds of prey every day of the week in all types of weather. We have been spending much of our time looking for returning hen harriers over the past few weeks in some rather un-spring-like weather so yesterday I was elated when I looked up and saw a mature male harrier skydancing low over my head. The bird disappeared out of sight down a gulley very quickly so I headed to a different position for a different view, happy that another male hen harrier was back on the estate. Over the next few hours the harrier was skydancing and hunting the slopes, mostly at very long range in a welcome bit of heat haze. I gradually got better and better views, and as the sun dropped a bit I began to strongly suspect that it was actually a pallid harrier. I called a good friend who was nearby and as we returned to the site the harrier flew low along the opposite hill giving superb views for the first time, allowing us to confirm that it was a mature male pallid harrier . Pallid harriers are rare visitors to the UK, most recently juvenile birds in the autumn. Adult males are exceptionally rare in the UK but one was seen near Hornsea in East Yorkshire early last Sunday morning and this is likely to be the same bird. Thanks must go to Mark Breaks for the photographs of this stunning bird. It’s not a hen harrier (the focus of my work), but I didn’t allow that to temper my excitement at having found a very beautiful and rare bird. We would like other birders to see this bird but must ask that people strictly follow the access arrangements as detailed below.   Access arrangements Please be aware that the pallid harrier is in a valley that is a four km walk from the nearest public parking. The walk is on a private road and vehicle access is only permitted for estate workers and the tenants that live and work here. BIRDERS MUST NOT  drive along this road, and will be asked to leave if they do.     Cars must only be parked in the pay and display car park in Dunsop Village at SD662502. The road to walk on is then accessed by walking west through the village (toward Lancaster and the Trough) over the river and take the first right. Follow this road north for approximately 3.5 kms up the Dunsop Valley until the road splits. Take the right hand split and walk for another 500 metres. The harrier has been hunting the slopes below the cairn on the hill on the other side of the river. Best views have been had from around the first cattle grid that you reach on this road after the split (approximately SD659543).   There are schedule 1 species nesting on the estate so it is vital that people coming to watch the harrier stick to the tracks so as not to cause disturbance at what is a really sensitive time in the breeding season. Please feel free to ask anyone that you see off the road to stick to the road!   We must also respect the goodwill of United Utilities, the land owner, as well as their tenants, who are incredibly supportive of our work so please stick rigorously to these access arrangements. There is a very nice cafe in Dunsop Village (Puddleducks) and there are toilets by the pay and display car park. Thank you, and good birding!

File: Hen Harrier Foodpass #4

With a long lens I was fortunate enough to witness this foodpass, high in the Antrim Hills. As he flies off, you can she she is still screaming at him, perhaps to encourage him to bring more food back quickly. Sadly this nest ended in disaster, when a Fox got the youngsters.

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Music on the Marr hen harrier t-shirt competition

Richard Johnstone is the organiser of the Music on the Marr folk festival, which takes place in Cumbria each summer. Here he tells us why the hen harrier has been chosen as the symbol of this year's festival and how the artistic amongst you could see your very own hen harrier design emblazoned across the chests of  hundreds of this year's festival goers.  Each year in late July, the lovely North Cumbrian village of Castle Carrock, nestled under the Geltsdale fells, hosts Music on the Marr, a three-day music festival showcasing outstanding folk and roots acts from near and far. The moors above the village partly comprise the RSPB's Geltsdale reserve, one of the very few recent breeding grounds of the hen harrier in Northern England. Each year the festival produces a new commemorative T-shirt and has on this occasion decided to feature the hen harrier, partly to raise awareness of its endangered state and partly to welcome it as a neighbour of our festival. The T-shirt design is open to public competition, and the winner will receive two weekend passes to the festival on 21-23rd July this year.  The competition is only open until Thursday 20th April though, so you'd better be quick! To read all the T&Cs and find out how to submit your entry, visit the Music on the Marr website here . A female hen harrier at RSPB's Geltsdale, in 2016. (Mark Thomas: rspb-images.com) This wonderful film shot at last year's event gives a flavour of the intimate and friendly nature of this event. Just as our area is visited by throngs of migrating birds at this time of year so the festival welcomes performers from such far flung places as the Congo, Zimbabwe and Senegal not to mention all parts of the UK. The festival's motto, which the village's road signs helpfully reflect is "Please Dance", but this year we'll be changing it to "Please Sky Dance" for obvious reasons! So please visit the festival website and, even if no designs spring to mind take a look at the impressive array of acts lined up and perhaps plan a visit combining the joys of fine folk music with the beauty of RSPB Geltsdale, and who knows? Maybe even a glimpse of an elusive hen harrier...

Blog Post: A new season & hopes for the class of 2017

It’s that time of year... hope and trepidation playing on my mind in equal measure. The breeding season just beginning, and with it, all the excitement and uncertainty of what lies ahead for our hen harriers. Often it feels as though little has changed from year to year, but our recent adventures in satellite tagging have given my reflections this year a new focus. For months now, our remaining satellite tagged birds have been sticking tightly to their chosen wintering grounds – Aalin in Shropshire, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, Finn in Ayrshire, Harriet in the Lake District, and Wendy on Mull. Who knows, perhaps that immobility has been the secret of their success? Being young and immature, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that any of our young harriers will attempt to breed this year. But experience shows that won’t stop them seeking out and exploring potential breeding sites. It goes without saying we’ll be monitoring their every move, watching closely, and waiting... For my part, I’m simply grateful that they’ve managed to make it this far. Five hen harriers remaining out of 12 – I’m not going to lie, it’s been a rough six months... August 2016 - young Banffshire male, Elwood, the first of our hen harriers to be tagged last year disappeared in the Monadhliaths in August when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting – the same area that had recently become notorious for the disappearances of a number of satellite tracked golden eagles. Hearteningly, Elwood’s disappearance prompted the Scottish Minister for the Environment to include hen harriers in the Scottish Government’s review of satellite tracking data, alongside golden eagles and red kites. Young hen harrier, Elwood, shortly after having his satellite tag fitted. Image credit: Adam Fraser September 2016 - Brian, a young male from Perthshire, disappeared in the Cairngorms in when his tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting. His body was never found. October 2016 - Hermione, a young female from a late nest on the Isle of Mull, was sadly found dead of natural causes not far from her natal site. Her remains and satellite tag were both recovered. October 2016 – easily the most adventurous of all our harriers last year, Donald died of unknown causes in northern France after travelling there from West Argyll via the Isle of Man and Wales. It was not possible to recover his body. October 2016 – an adult female hen harrier is spotted at roost with a non-functioning tag and process of elimination suggests this could be 2014 Bowland bird, Highlander . November 2016 - Beater, another young male, who fledged from Wildlands Estate in the Cairngorms, disappeared in the central Scottish Borders and is thought to have died of unknown causes. His body hasn’t been found. Geltsdale hen harrier, Bonny, having his satellite tag fitted.   Image credit: Mark Thomas December 2016 – Bonny, our most famous hen harrier, who fledged from our Geltsdale reserve, had his name chosen by Chris Packham from a LUSH cosmetics competition, and featured on BBC’s Autumnwatch and Six News, disappeared and is thought to have died of unknown causes on moorland to the east of Geltsdale in December 2016. His body hasn’t been found. January 2017 – the body of young female, Carroll, named after raptor worker Mick Carroll, was reported to the police by a Northumberland estate after being found dead of a natural causes (full post-mortem report awaited). Both body and tag were recovered and it was later discovered that she had survived being shot at a young age. Radiograph of hen harrier, Carroll, showing two pieces of lead shot lodged in her knee and head. Image credit: Zoological Society of London Add to that list the outcome of Natural England’s 2016 hen harriers – the confirmed shooting of Rowan in Cumbria, and the unexplained disappearances of Tarras in the Peak District and Mick in the Yorkshire Dales, (the remaining two, John and Sorrell, are still alive) and it becomes increasingly difficult not to despair. The confirmed shootings of Rowan and Carroll, in 2016, add to the shooting of Lad , in September 2015, and Annie in April 2015, to make four hen harriers confirmed shot in separate incidents (two in England, two in Scotland), in less than two years, with zero prosecutions or hope of prosecution. The illegal killing of our protected birds of prey is not a conspiracy theory, nor a cynical attempt to blacken the name of a certain group of people. It is a documented fact. Hen harrier, Lad, found shot dead in the Cairngorms National Park in 2015. Image credit: RSPB And it is thanks to satellite tagging that we are able to document this fact and shine a light on what is happening to our hen harriers. As the possible rediscovery of Highlander shows, satellite tagging is not a perfect technology (I challenge you to name one that is) but for those wishing to discredit it, I suggest you read this excellent blog by my colleague and experienced satellite tagger, Duncan Orr-Ewing. From natural deaths, to incredible journeys, breeding successes and failures, suspicious disappearances, and illegal killings, satellite tagging is helping us to build a picture of our hen harrier population, which otherwise would remain hidden from view. And the more tags we fit, the more rounded that picture will become. When we started the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, we anticipated fitting around 6 tags per year to hen harriers in England and Scotland – 24 or so in total. In the first year of the project, that is what we did. What we couldn’t have predicted, however, was the subsequent groundswell of public support for this sort of work and thanks to the generosity of LUSH cosmetics and their customers through sales of the Skydancer bathbomb, we were able to double the number of tags fitted last year to 12, and plan to more than double this again for 2017. I titled this blog “A new season and hope for the class of 2017” and I meant it. In the face of everything, I am hopeful for 2017. I am hopeful for every year that passes but I am especially hopeful, this year, for the stories that I know are lying in wait for so many satellite tagged hen harriers to reveal to us. So here's to the breeding season - we're ready for all that it may bring.  --- In the meantime, what can you do?  Last chance to join this Thunderclap started by Findlay Wilde ( @WildeAboutBirds) , before 11am today and add your voice to thousands on social media calling for an end to hen harrier persecution. You can also join Fin's campaign by including the hashtag #henharriers in all your tweets today. What better way to mark the start of the hen harrier breeding season than to get #henharriers trending on Twitter?  If you see a hen harrier in England , phone our Hen Harrier Hotline on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rates) or email henharriers@rspb.org.uk. Details of the date, time, location (six-figure grid reference if possible), and activity of the bird (eg flying, hunting, skydancing) could help us pinpoint an early breeding attempt.  If you see a hen harrier in Scotland , phone the Partnership Against Wildlife crime (PAW) Scotland's   Heads Up for Harriers hotline on 07767 671973 (calls charged at standard network rates) or email henharrier@snh.gov.uk. 

Blog Post: Hen Harrier Hotline relaunched

  As spring has now almost sprung, we’ve relaunched our Hen Harrier Hotline with the hope of finding out where these seriously threatened birds of prey might be breeding in England’s moorland.   If you are out hiking or cycling in the hills, please keep an eye out for one. If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please get in touch.    The Harrier Hotline number is 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. A description of the bird’s behaviour would also be useful.   Many of you will be able to spot a hen harrier half a mile away in poor weather conditions. But for those of you who are less familiar with the bird of prey, here is a reminder of what they look like.   Male hen harriers are an ash-grey colour with black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre. They are sometimes known as ghostbirds because of the pale colour of their plumage.   Male hen harrier - RSPB Images Female hen harriers are slightly larger, are owl-like in appearance, and have a mottled brown plumage, which camouflages them when they nest on the ground. They have horizontal stripes on their tails, giving them the nickname ringtail and a patch of white just above, on the rump.   Female hen harrier - Dave Dimmock

Blog Post: Making bath bombs with Chris Packham

Hen Harrier Life Project Community Engagement Officer Aimée Nicholson reports on recent the LUSH summit   Since joining the Hen Harrier Life Project back in October of last year, I have spent many a happy day telling people about the wonderful birds we are working so hard to protect. Last Thursday was no different but there was a slight twist to this event; this time it was live streamed across the internet for the world to see. The event I attended was the LUSH Summit, a two-day event organised by the ethical cosmetics company, which showcased the causes that they support through the campaigns in their shops. The Hen Harrier Life Project is very lucky to be one of those causes and since 2015 the sales from the Skydancer bath bomb has raised over £100,000 to fund the purchase of satellite tags. Thanks to this support from Lush we are able to tag double the amount of birds this year than we did last year, all due to people buying bath bombs. My day started at 6am as I got on the train to head to the trendy Tobacco Dock in London’s thriving enterprise zone.  I am not usually an early morning person but the excitement of attending this event and talking about hen harriers alongside my colleague Mark Thomas and Chris Packham had me wide awake and prepared for the day. I arrived in London just as is started to snow, battled the rush hour tube (how do people do this?) and made it to the event with half an hour to spare, and time to warm up ready for our rehearsal. We were hosted in the conservation room which was filled with trees, plants and cosy bean bags for people to relax in during the talks. The talks in this room were enough to keep you busy for the day never mind the numerous other rooms which were available to explore.  The LUSH Summit I met with Chris and Mark at rehearsal ready to be briefed about what we were doing that afternoon, the session we were taking part in was done in the LUSH Kitchen style (think Saturday Kitchen with cosmetics) so we were told that we would be talking about hen harriers whilst making the Skydancer bath bomb.  For someone who loves the bath bomb, this sounded great fun. Aimée with Mark Thomas and Chris Packham The summit was just as I had imagined, very LUSH! The place smelled incredible; you could actually smell it on the way to the venue and we were entertained with dancing flowers, ladybirds and unicorns whilst exploring all the new and exclusive products that were scattered throughout the venue. This was the only LUSH Kitchen talk to be live streamed throughout the whole event which highlights the importance of this campaign. We sat awaiting the countdown and looked around at the crowded room of expectant faces and then we were live! The LUSH kitchen format was great fun to take part in; there was time for us to tell people about hen harriers, the problems they face,  the work, which LUSH has done to support the Hen Harrier Life Project, all whilst getting messy making  Skydancer bath bombs. Making hen harrier bath bombs The 40 minutes whizzed by and it all went incredibly well, which what you always hope for as a Community Engagement Officer, and the feedback in the room was that of a very caring audience who hope for the best future for hen harriers. Here’s to hoping that the people in audience, and those watching online, went away and told others about these beautiful Skydancers and what they can do to help. After saying my goodbyes to the team I headed back to Kings Cross, Skydancers in hand, backpack full of goodies and smelling like I had been rolling in essential oils. I felt content that now even more people were aware of the work of the Hen Harrier Life Project, the amazing support we have received from LUSH and hoping for a successful breeding season in 2017.