Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category

File: Marvellous Moors

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Experiencing the amazing moorland landscape firsthand with West Woodburn First School and Newsham Primary School, on a Skydancer field trip in Northumberland, March 2014

File: Creative collage 2

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
One of the finished moorland collages created by children from Newsham Primary School, Blyth and West Woodburn First School, Northumberland after a Skydancer field trip as part of their Hen Harrier Hero Awards.

File: Creative collages

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Children from Newsham Primary School, Blyth, get one step closer to earning their Hen Harrier Hero Awards by making moorland collages, following their Skydancer field trip, March, 2014.

File: Fun in the sun

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Children from West Woodburn First School and Newsham Primary School enjoy the sunshine & learn all about the building blocks of the moorland landscape on a Skydancer field trip in Northumberland, March 2014.

Blog Post: Watching and waiting in Northumberland

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
Latest update from Stephen Temperley, our Species Protection Coordinator, overseeing hen harrier monitoring and nest protection efforts in Northumberland this year. Across Northumberland these last couple of days, the clement weather has been very welcome indeed – for the farmers, for the muirburners, for the Northumberland National Park Wardens, for all nature-lovers who like to get out there but, with regard to the project, most of all for my volunteers, for myself and of course for the birds themselves. What a joy to be able to see for miles, to bask in a relatively warm sun and to be able to describe the movement of the air as a zephyr or a breeze rather than a wind that cuts right through you.  Don’t get me wrong – cold has not been a substantial problem at all this winter or spring. It’s the lack of visibility that has proven so frustrating. Certainly from the end of March to the middle of last week we had a cold east wind prevailing that brought in a harr (a wet fog with mizzle, drizzle, rain, you name it) and cut down visibility consistently to 50-200 m over the higher moorland where our monitoring has to be concentrated. Accordingly, under such circumstances, any hen harrier sightings had to owe a great deal to serendipity.  Nevertheless, over the two weeks or so of crummy visibility, my inestimable team of volunteers and me together managed to establish a minimum of two adult females and two adult males in residence across the county, although one each of those females and males seem to have remained more attached to their wintering habitats, rather than moseying along to the potential breeding areas. Male hen harrier silhouetted against the sky. (c) Amy Challis, 2008  Now at least I can tell you that the potential is such we have great cause for optimism. At least one adult female and one adult male are showing more than a passing interest in the most historic, and therefore the most likely, breeding areas. The muirburn deadline for upland keepers has now passed (as of the 15 th of April) so, hopefully, potential disturbance is now at a minimum. Meadow pipits, skylarks, lapwings, curlews, golden plovers, red grouse, etc – all are back on their breeding grounds, all are calling, displaying and breeding, and it provides a wonderful, rewarding background to monitoring. Now if only the male and female harriers could meet and get it on, their hormonal instincts would take over and we will be in business. Let’s hope my next blog bears this out……

Blog Post: Kicking off 2014 with enthusiasm and pragmatism

Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Spring is suddenly upon us and as the breeding season gets underway in earnest, so too do our efforts to identify, monitor and protect any hen harrier nesting attempts in England. I'm delighted to welcome back Stephen Temperley as our Species Protection Coordinatior for Northumberland, and I bring you his determined, yet hopeful, first blog of the season. I’ll begin my first blog of the season by referring you to a fascinating and important peer-reviewed scientific paper published last November in the Journal Bird Study (Hayhow, et al 2013) . Using data from the fourth national survey of hen harriers, carried out in 2010, the authors have determined that the UK and Isle of Man population declined by 18% between 2004 and 2010. The hen harrier population of Scotland declined by 20%, whereas the welsh population increased by 33%. While the very low numbers in England make statistical extrapolation unreliable, it was noted the by far the most significant declines occurred on heather moorland managed for large-scale (beaten) grouse shooting. They conclude that illegal persecution limits the size of the English population to very low levels. Hard to argue with, particularly when we take into account the conclusions of Fielding et al (2011) , that there exists sufficient habitat to support 323-340 pairs across England. The last few years have been desperately bad for hen harriers in England: in 2010 there were 7 successful hen harrier nests, from which 23 young fledged. These paltry numbers declined progressively in subsequent years, so that in 2012 England had only a single successful nest. It couldn’t get worse I hear you say – well it could, and it did. We had such high hopes in 2013 when a nest attempt got underway in Northumberland. For a more detailed account of this attempt and our protection program, you can read my final blog from last year  here .  From the point of view of protection the RSPB monitoring operation set up in response to the 2013 Northumberland attempt was an unmitigated success; the birds remained undisturbed during a 24/7 monitoring scheme that RSPB staff and volunteers kept up for eleven weeks. During that time the poor female incubated her two eggs for almost fifty days (average for this species 29-31 days), with the male providing her with food items every day without fail throughout that time. Unfortunately the eggs did not hatch, with a full forensic analysis revealing they were infertile. So - in case you were not aware, it came to pass that in 2013 there were no successful breeding attempts in England . With Circus cyaneus on the cusp of extinction in England, every breeding attempt, every egg and every fledgling this year will be precious. While the breeding failures of recent years have been very hard for all of us to bear, I am encouraged by the fact that the 2013-2014 winter hen harrier numbers across Northern England have been particularly buoyant, indeed the best I have known for almost ten years. This has to be good sign with respect to breeding potential. During the earliest stages of this year's breeding cycle (up to the beginning of egg-laying), myself and a few highly experienced workers will be monitoring extenstively but watching keenly from a distance to avoid any potential disturbance. Thus, while the birds are only just beginning to emerge from winter habits and habitats, we prepare and we watch with a combination of wide-eyed enthusiasm and hard-headed pragmatism. And, believe me, when it comes to the fate of hen harriers in England that combination is not a contradiction in terms. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said (and I paraphrase): an artist is a person who can hold two fundamentally opposing viewpoints and still function. For artist, read hen harrier worker. Here’s to a successful 2014.

Blog Post: Have a heroic half-term with the Hen Harrier Hero Awards!

Friday, February 21st, 2014
It's the last day of half-term week, the weather's been awful and the kids are bouncing off the walls. You're running out of ideas to keep them occupied and counting down the days 'til school starts again, but fear ye not - I have just the thing! RSPB's Hen Harrier Hero Awards are completely free and packed full of 15 fun activities encouraging children learn about hen harriers and their moorland habitats. From making a moorland collage, or practising their birdwatching skills, to camouflage games, and hosting a harrier fun day, there's plenty to keep the whole family busy! Participants only need to complete six activities to earn a Hero Award, or 10 activities to receive a Superhero Award. Each award comes with a personalised certificate and Hen Harrier Hero or Superhero sticker and those who earn a Superhero Award will also receive a special edition hen harrier pin badge. The awards are aimed at children aged 8-12 but can easily be adapted for those older or younger, and are suitable for individuals, families, schools or youth groups. Best of all, you don't have to live anywhere near hen harriers or moorland to take part. Download your free activity book from our website here: rspb.org.uk/henharrierhero So what are you waiting for? Go on, have a heroic half term!

Blog Post: Wildlife crime & hen harriers hitting the headlines

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
With the gathering of the first United for Wildlife conference in London this week, the subject of international wildlife crime has been very much in the media spotlight. This has stimulated a huge amount of online commentary and debate about our tendency to view wildlife crime as a foreign issue, and whether or not we adhere to our responsibility to practice what we preach. Do we hold the importance of protecting our own iconic wildlife, such as hen harriers and golden eagles, as equal to the protection of international poster-species like rhinos and tigers? And if not, why not? You can watch Channel 4's short documentary news piece on this topic here , which aired last night and features interviews with, amongst others, our own Scottish Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, and the Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Alex Hogg. In addition, Martin Harper wrote an excellent blog on this yesterday, " Tackling wildlife crime abroad... and at home ", which if you haven't already read, I would strongly recommend. In it, he particularly focuses on hen harriers and explains why the pressure is now seriously on for Defra fulfil their commitment to produce an effective emergency recovery plan for hen harriers in England.  Time is ticking, and our wildlife is counting on us.

Comment on Bird on the Brink – an evening of discussion & debate

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
Thanks, Ian. Always nice to hear.

Comment on Bird on the Brink – an evening of discussion & debate

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
I actually heard you speak at the Newcastle RSPB Local Members Group last November on Tyneside and I really enjoyed that talk by you. Regards, Ian.

Blog Post: Bird on the Brink – an evening of discussion & debate

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
A key part of my role in Skydancer, is the delivery of talks on hen harriers and the project to local interest groups, such as bird clubs, natural history societies, WI groups, rotary clubs – basically anyone who’ll listen! These talks normally take the form of a traditional lecture style presentation (though I hate the word “lecture”, it makes everything sound so dull) with questions and answers at the end, so when I was invited to speak as part of Cafe Culture North East 's programme of events, I jumped at the chance to try something different. Here’s what they say on their website: Café Culture is a series of free events for thinkers which aim to generate discussion, debate and a convivial atmosphere. Held in central Newcastle upon Tyne, they seek to provide a space for people to think, share ideas and to have a lively and inclusive discussion. Each talk involves an interesting speaker, sometimes but not always high profile, who introduce their talk in an accessible and challenging way. We then open to the floor for comment, debate and discussion. We aim to go beyond a rigid question and answer format, to allow broad participation. We want to create an atmosphere where people can talk about the issues they feel passionately about and to open our minds to new ideas. You can follow them on Facebook here and listen to the podcasts of their talks online  here . It’s not called Café Culture for nothing as the venue for the evening was indeed a café in the corner of Dance City, a local performing arts school. Of course, it was only after agreeing that I realised there would be no stage, no PowerPoint, no props, or notes – just me, in the corner, with a microphone, talking for 30 minutes... no pressure! I guess I must have managed alright, because the 90 minutes of discussion and debate that followed were extremely well thought-out, reasoned and considered. So much so in fact, that I'd be really keen to use the format again. Unfortunately, this latter part of the evening wasn't recorded, a real pity as there was so much said and some incredibly insightful comments from the audience that simply couldn’t be squeezed into the comparatively short introduction. However, if you can spare 29 minutes and fancy giving it a listen, click here to go to the podcast. Keen listeners amongst you may pick up on a point when I say 100 grouse, when I actually mean 1000 (this was later clarified in the discussion), but in the grand scheme of things, talking for half an hour with no notes or slides, I’ll forgive myself one relatively minor slip. What I’m finding harder to forgive is the turn my accent has taken...!

Blog Post: Hen harriers on show at Geltsdale

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Ghostbird is an exhibition by artist Louise Ann Wilson , exploring the history and decline of hen harriers in England and particularly, the Forest of Bowland. Originally created as a walking theatre perfomance  over the Bowland Fells in 2012, the new exhbition features stunning photographs, as well as props, signs and interpretations from the original production. Fresh from having spent three months on display at the Peter Scott Gallery in Lancaster , we are delighted now to welcome Ghostbird to Geltsdale. A small launch event was held on the 18th January with a introductory talks from Louise herself and RSPB staff, a performance by a life model, and as if on cue, attendees were treated to periodic sightings of two ringtail hen harriers, hunting and displaying on the fell opposite the visitor centre throughout the day. It's almost as if they knew why we were gathered there and that they were the stars of the show! This beautiful and thought-provoking exhibiton will be on display at our Stagsike Cottages visitor centre until 4th April. It's free of charge and well worth a visit, and who knows, maybe you'll even be lucky enough to see a hen harrier... For more information on RSPB's Geltsdale reserve, visit www.rspb.org.uk/geltsdale Louise Ann Wilson giving an introductory talk at the launch event, Geltsdale. Ghostbird Exhibition launch, taking it all in, Geltsdale. Shotgun cartridges piled high, Ghostbird Exhibition launch, Geltsdale. Reading the history, Ghostbird Exhibition launch, photo (c) Louise Ann Wilson    

Blog Post: Hen Harriers on BBC Winterwatch 2014

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Together, the BBC's seasonal wildlife series, Autumnwatch, Winterwatch and Springwatch, are watched and beloved by literally millions of people across the UK every year. From eagles to beetles, they're a fabulous showcase for inspiring and engaging people about all that is wonderfully wild about nature in Britain, and are a great means of raising awareness about some of our lesser-known species. When hen harriers were mentioned on BBC Autumnwatch, at RSPB's Leighton Moss, last November, our Hen Harrier Hotline was inundated with calls and emails from people across the country wanting to report their sightings. Not all turned out to be hen harriers of course, but the fantastic thing is that it sparked so many people's interest and got everyone looking! Of those that were definitely hen harriers, many of them were old records or from earlier in the year, as the people doing the reporting simply hadn't realised how threatened hen harriers were or how valuable reported sightings are for their conservation. So as BBC Winterwatch kicks off this coming Monday (20th January), it's great to see that hen harriers are once again going to feature! Here's what it says on their website : Help for Hen Harriers Hen Harriers effectively went extinct as a breeding species in England this year, and with numbers declining by 18% in the last 10 years across the UK they really aren’t doing very well. As one of our rarest birds of prey, they are becoming increasingly difficult to see in the wild - so Iolo Williams is on a mission to find one. Meeting up with researcher Stephen Murphy, they track down one of his satellite tagged birds to a grouse moor on the Scottish borders. Along the way, Iolo finds out what’s happening to our hen harriers and how Stephen’s new research could help us protect the species. Wintering hen harrier on the Dee Estuary (c) Mike Davenport, 2013 Looking forward to tuning in! In the meantime, keep those hen harrier sightings coming by emailing details of the date, time and location (grid reference if possible) to henharriers@rspb.org.uk or calling 08454600121 (calls charged at local rates). For sightings in Scotland, there's a Scottish hotline you can report to - HenHarriers@snh.gov.uk  - managed by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland . The more information we have, the better equipped we'll be to protect these amazing birds.

Comment on The Year of the Hen Harrier?

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Sooty makes his point somewhat bluntly but,he does have a valid point. I agree. The RSPB, in my opinion, damned the vicarious liability petition with faint praise instead of getting fully behind it! The RSPB surely need to be more proactive and more robust in their defence of Hen Harriers - the collaborative, reasonable approach is just not working. The RSPB also seem strangely reluctant to change tack and try a more confrontational approach.  It is not just a moral battle - the Hen Harrier persecutors are breaking the law!

Comment on The Year of the Hen Harrier?

Monday, January 6th, 2014
Hi Sooty, I'm sorry you feel that way, though I'm slightly confused as to why you think that people who build hedgehog houses are not likely to support hen harriers. The appeal to estates was somewhat tongue-in-cheek - while I do believe that such estates exist, I rather doubt they're likely to be reading this blog (though you never know...). I absolutely agree that the Government needs to galvanise itself to do something and the recovery plan soon to be produced by Defra's Hen Harrier Sub-group (which RSPB actively feeds into) will be the first true test of that.

Comment on The Year of the Hen Harrier?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
You must be joking,you think estates may get in touch to help H H,they have got it extinct as a English breeding bird exactly what they wanted while in the meantime rspb ponces around trying to persuade people to join and build Hedgehog houses,will those people support H Hs,no of course not. The thing that needs triggering in 2014 is for rspb to galvanise itself to get the Government to do something,the rspb could not even be bothered to take the Vicarious Liability petition on board and give it the support that Hen Harriers desperately needed.Absolutely disgusting.  

Blog Post: The Year of the Hen Harrier?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
January 2nd, 2014 and already the excesses of Christmas seem a dim and distant (if fond) memory. As I type, the muscles in my limbs voice their objection in a series of aches, having been a) woken before 7am for the first time in weeks, and b) subjected to an early morning exercise class when they were clearly of the opinion they should still be tucked up in a nice warm bed. Bad habits can be painful (in this case literally) to break, but then isn't that what the New Year is all about? Resolutions, new beginnings, fresh starts - fresh hope that this time, things will be different. It may seem corny but I'm a firm believer in the abundance of possibility that a new year brings. However to look forward, one also has to look back and whether you're superstitious about numbers or not, there's no denying that 2013 was not a good year. Not for hen harriers at any rate. Female hen harrier (c) John Whitting, 2013 You may recall my hope at the end of 2012 , that 2013 would be remembered as the "Year of the Hen Harrier" and I think it's possible it still will, though admittedly not for the reason I had in mind. In 2013, for the first time in almost half a century, we didn't have a single successful hen harrier nest anywhere in England. Not one. After years of teetering on the brink, hen harrier breeding numbers in England have finally reached rock bottom. I could trot out the usual cliché and say "the only way is up," but that is patently not true. If things are going to get better, something has to change. Raising awareness is key and while Skydancer is working hard on that front, thankfully it's clear that many of you aren't taking last year's breeding stats lying down either. A spontaneous  twitter campaign  had great success in August and many of you have sent me copies of letters written to your MPs, which may even have contributed to the issue being debated in the House of Commons in October. There has been some good progress (though let's face it, not nearly enough) between conservation and shooting communities, with several organisations and landowners working together to protect a nesting attempt in Northumberland . Sadly the nest failed naturally but had the eggs hatched, it would have been the first example of diversionary feeding in England and a tantalising demonstration of what could be. The RSPB regularly stands accused of pedalling bad news story after bad news story about shooting and birds of prey but give us an estate willing to work in partnership to protect and diversionary feed hen harriers and I promise you, we will shout and praise them from the rooftops! (I know there must be some out there - seriously, call me) It's trite but true to say that more often than not, you don't know what you've got til it's gone. Perhaps no one ever truly believed that it would come to this - a year without hen harriers. But now it's happened and the reality has hit home, it is essential that it galvanises people into action. If 2013 can't be the year that things changed, let it be the year that triggered the change. As I type, we await the results of Defra's Hen Harrier Sub-group, tasked with establishing an emergency recovery plan for hen harriers in England and due to publish their plan sometime in the coming months. A new year means a new start and fresh hope for hen harriers in England. Let's make 2014 a year to remember. 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: Birdcrime 2012

Friday, December 13th, 2013
Birdcrime 2012 was published today, setting out the statistics for all recorded offences against wild bird legislation in that year. If this seems a little late just three weeks from the start of 2014, it's because meticulous care is taken to collate the data and ensure that it's accurately represented. Rather than write about it myself, allow me to direct you to Martin Harper's excellent and highly articulate blog " Bird Crime: a test of anyone's temper " - I couldn't have said it better. For now though, I leave you with two photos of "Bowland Betty", one of the last hen harriers to fledge from the Forest of Bowland. The first as she was on her nest, having her satellite tag fitted in 2011. The second, as she was found, having been shot through the leg on the edge of a grouse moor in North Yorkshire, 2012. Shooting community, I implore you once and for all - cast out those who tarnish your reputation by commiting these crimes. There has to be a way beyond this.  

Comment on Shooting & Conservation – meeting in the middle

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Hi Naturalist, That's a good question and one that frequently gets asked about diversionary feeding. An understandable concern amongst gamekeepers is that placing carrion out on the hill like this will simply attract in other predators. However after a bit of experimentation, researchers at Langholm found that placing the platform close enough to the nest meant the female harrier became very territorial over it and was quick to see off any crows or other predators that showed an interest. So other predators aren’t a problem. A key point to emphasise is that diversionary feeding only takes place for a short period of time, during the nesting period when hen harriers are hunting most intensively to feed their chicks. It's not a year-round thing and hasn't been shown to "tame" the harriers or prevent them carrying out natural hunting behaviours. They continue to hunt small birds and mammals, like meadow pipits and voles, but their impact on red grouse is significantly reduced.

Comment on Shooting & Conservation – meeting in the middle

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Hi Naturalist, That's a good question and one that frequently gets asked about diversionary feeding. An understandable concern amongst gamekeepers is that placing carrion out on the hill like this will simply attract in other predators. However after a bit of experimentation, researchers at Langholm found that placing the platform close enough to the nest meant the female harrier became very territorial over it and was quick to see off any crows or other predators that showed an interest. So other predators aren’t a problem. A key point to emphasise is that diversionary feeding only takes place for a short period of time, during the nesting period when hen harriers are hunting most intensively to feed their chicks. It's not a year-round thing and hasn't been shown to "tame" the harriers or prevent them carrying out natural hunting behaviours. They continue to hunt small birds and mammals, like meadow pipits and voles, but their impact on red grouse is significantly reduced.