Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category
Guest blog by Jeff Knott, Head of Nature Policy The last time I gave a talk on hen harriers at an RSPB event, it finished with me and a colleague ripping our clothes off on stage. I suppose it’s not surprising I’ve not been let anywhere near a stage since! But after what I can only presume is a collective bout of amnesia in the events team, I’ll be back talking about hen harriers at the RSPB AGM and Members’ Day on Saturday 10th October at the QEII Centre, London. You can book your place online here . While I’ll certainly be covering the ongoing plight of one of our most threatened birds of prey and the pernicious effect of illegal persecution, the talk will also be focusing on the reasons we can be positive and why I honestly believe we will save our hen harriers. I can’t tell you too much more detail right now. We’re busy preparing things at the moment and I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise, but I can promise it will definitely be memorable – we’ve got a trick or two up our sleeves that should make it unique. I’ll again be joined by a glamorous colleague and I doubt what we have planned has ever been attempted at Members’ Day. I promise to keep my clothes on this time though. Probably. No more details for now...If you want to see what we have planned, you’ll just have to be there .
The LIFE+ Project is advertising two Community Engagement Officer posts, based in northern England and Edinburgh. We are looking for two self-motivated, inspirational people with excellent communication and interpersonal skills to deliver school and college workshops and field trips, community group talks and attend community events. We want to engage with the shooting and land-owning communities communities across the seven key Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for hen harriers in northern England and southern and eastern Scotland that the project focuses on - a large geographic area! The aim of the roles is to raise awareness of the habitat, ecology and threats to the hen harrier as well as the measures to protect these amazing, but declining birds of prey. For more information, and to apply, please visit: https://www.rspb.org.uk/vacancies/details/406470-community-engagement-officer-2-roles
Back in July, we blogged about Hetty, a young hen harrier on the Isle of Man, satellite tagged as part of the LIFE project with Manx Birdlife. Unfortunately we have some sad news to report. Transmissions from her tag showed our Investigations Team that she had stopped moving and so they went out to the Isle of Man this week to look for her. Sadly, as expected, she had not survived, and was found only 2km from her nest site. We cannot speculate about the cause of death at this stage, but her body had been heavily predated. Her remains have been sent for post mortem and we are anxiously waiting for the results. This case highlights the potential hardship hen harriers face trying to survive alone when newly fledged from the nest, whether that is difficulty finding food or avoiding adverse weather, predation or illegal persecution. Any hen harrier making it to adulthood to breed is a feat of endurance. Luckily in this case, we had the technology in place to allow us to find Hetty and investigate the reasons for death. We will share the results in due course. We’d like to thank Lesley Cowin who named the bird in memory of her late father Sydney Cowin who bequeathed an amount of money to the local charitable trust, the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside (SPMC) which part funded the costs of the satellite tagging procedure, and we hope we can work with Manx Birdlife again next year. We’d hoped to feature Hetty’s movements on the LIFE Project website, alongside some other birds tagged this year. This has been delayed because we have been waiting for the birds to move away from the areas where their nests were. We think we should be good to go in a couple of weeks, and we look forward to sharing the travels of these fantastic birds. Watch this space...!
By Jennifer Lane Phew!! So as some of you know, this weekend I bungee jumped 300ft to raise money for hen harriers in Bowland. And… it was INCREDIBLE! We’ve raised a wonderful £543.00 so far. Thank you so SO much to everyone who has donated to this great cause – you’ve been absolutely fantastic ! There’s still chance to visit my JustGiving page and donate: https://www.justgiving.com/Jennifer-Lane2/ And for those who want a bit of a chuckle, here’s it is: https://youtu.be/37mnNK3JZjs (listen out for the squawk…) Thanks again everyone J ... And here are some great photos of Jenn making the jump, courtesy of Carl Lane.
Guest blog by Helen Byron, Area Conservation Manager I’m just back from a weekend of hen harrier events in the Peak District, which the RSPB was delighted to support. On Saturday night, we were at the Palace Hotel in Buxton for Hen Harrier Eve: celebrating the hen harrier , an event organised by Mark Avery. A packed room of almost 300 heard readings about the Peak District, a landscape for harriers, by local duo Stone and Water; saw the RSPB Skydancer video introduced by RSPB’s Amanda Miller and strongly endorsed by the RSPB’s Chief Executive Mike Clarke who was at the weekend’s events. There was a conversation with Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller; a presentation about birds of prey and their part in our culture from author Mark Cocker; a fantastic video mash up from young campaigner Findlay Wilde, who also announced that he had convinced Ecotricity to sponsor satellite tags for the LIFE+ Project; a video montage of the recent travels of Henry the Hen Harrier; and a passionate speech by Chris Packham. And all this delivered from a life size model of a grouse butt made by Findlay and with an appearance by Henry the Hen Harrier! A great time was had by all! Photos: Guy Shorrock, RSPB Sunday morning saw around 500 people, old and young, and various dogs including poodles, which greatly pleased Chris Packham, congregate in the stunning Goyt Valley for Hen Harrier Day 2015 - and this year the weather was glorious! Charlie Moores from Birders Against Wildlife Crime, the event’s organisers, hosted the event which opened with a talk from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's CEO Jo Smith celebrating the Peak District and confirming DWT’s commitment to hen harriers, followed by a rousing speech from RSPB’s Jeff Knott, stirring words from Mark Avery and closing with an engaging speech by Chris Packham. The passion in the crowd for the plight of the hen harrier was abundantly clear. You can get a flavour of the speeches, the posters and bird kites that accompanied it on the BAWC YouTube channel here . Photos: Guy Shorrock, RSPB After the rally in the Goyt there were stalls in the Buxton Pavilion gardens where people who’d been at the rally and others new to hen harrier issues could talk to BAWC, DWT, RSPB and others and enjoy family activities in the splendid sunshine. Photos: Guy Shorrock, RSPB Hen Harrier Day/weekend 2015 in the Peak District was much bigger than in 2014 - the RSPB was delighted to support it and my colleagues and I were so pleased to be part of it. Expect even more next year!!
Today, the high street cosmetics store Lush has launched a hen harrier bath bomb, proceeds of which will go to the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project to help fund our satellite tagging operation from next season! Satellite tagging allows us to learn more about their ecology and to find out where they might be at risk. The bath bomb was named by TV presenter Chris Packham, 'Skydancer – Far From The Madding Guns'. This follow-up campaign by Lush, comes ahead of Hen Harrier Day this Sunday 9th August ( http://henharrierday.org/ ) and the start of the grouse shooting season on the Glorious Twelfth to help inform the general public of the decline in hen harrier numbers over recent years. Jeff Knott, the RSPB’s Head of Nature Policy, said: “We are delighted that Lush has come up with this imaginative way of raising awareness about hen harriers and getting their customers involved in their conservation. Everyone who buys a bath bomb will be making a valuable contribution towards bringing this amazing bird of prey back from the brink of extinction in England." Please pop into your local Lush store this weekend and help save our hen harriers!
Last week, I headed down to Bowland to meet the team involved in the LIFE project nest protection on the site. I was keen to meet them to hear their perspective on this season’s happenings. Much of the Forest of Bowland is designated as a Special protection Area as the Bowland Fells SPA (European importance), and this is primarily for its breeding Hen Harriers, with a designation of 12 breeding pairs. However, in recent years successful breeding pairs have been way below this number, with 2 pairs in 2014, and none in 2012 and 2013. Last season, two satellite tagged fledglings (Hope and Sky) also disappeared from Bowland after their tags failed to transmit . These tags are very reliable and it is high unlikely that this was due to technical difficulties, as this technology is considered very reliable. This year, five healthy adult male hen harriers went missing in England resulting in the failure of the nests they were provisioning. Four of these males where from the Bowland from the United Utilities (UU) estate: this is extremely unusual and the reasons for their disappearances are yet to be explained and police continue to appeal for information. A 2008 government-commissioned report by Natural England found that it was very unusual for male hen harriers to abandon an active nest in most places. However, it also found that nearly 7 out of 10 of the nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors, did so following the disappearance of an adult. Although this year’s nests were being watched 24/7 by our team of dedicated volunteers, it is nigh on impossible to follow and protect males who travel far and wide to hunt from the nest, leaving the female to care for and protect the eggs/chicks at the nest site. It’s sad to think that the loss of the 4 males at Bowland this year has resulted in the loss of so many potential hen harriers, indeed the team at Bowland were devastated by these disappearances, as were UU. I really feel the urgency now to raise awareness of the plight of the hen harrier. Luckily, through the LIFE Project we are able to satellite tag and track birds, giving them protection away from their nest sites, which should help provide evidence if any tagged birds go missing. Others feel the same! RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is bravely undertaking a bungee jump on the 8 th August to help raise the profile of hen harriers. Please donate to her cause here: https://www.justgiving.com/Jennifer-Lane2/ . Funds raised will go towards the RSPB’s work on hen harriers High street cosmetics chain Lush is also getting involved. They campaigned in stores last year – and this year wants to follow it up in stores in the week of the Glorious Twelfth. Pop into your local store to find out more! Finally you can also do something too! Hen Harrier Day is on Sunday 9 th August and events are taking place across the UK, with the main event at the Goyt Valley in the Peak District. The more people we can get to come out to these events the better so we can gain more media coverage so people will take notice. Find out about your local event here: http://henharrierday.org/ See you there!
Bea Ayling (Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project Manager) In June and July, a number of hen harrier chicks across England and Scotland were satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project. The project seeks to better understand the movements of these magnificent birds to help identify areas where they are most at risk.. This need became particularly pertinent in the 2015 breeding season when 5 nests failed in northern England due to the well-publicised, unexplained disappearances of the healthy male adult birds. As the new Project Manager (covering for Blánaid while she is off enjoying her own brood), I am on tenterhooks to see how the 2015 breeding season pans out having started the role smack bang in the middle. I am particularly excited about being able to track our birds online! A couple of the project’s satellite tagged birds will be made public here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/ . The latest tag went on a female chick on the Isle of Man, named Hetty. It’ll be fascinating to see where she disperses to for the winter as hen harriers are known to range far and wide. Maybe she will encounter some of our other tagged birds across the sea in England and Scotland! Maps of her movements should be available on the website in the next few weeks. Hetty and her brother prior to ringing and tagging. Photo credit: John Hellowell I really hope that allowing the public to follow our tagged birds’ helps raise awareness and understanding of hen harriers, encouraging recognition that hen harriers are an intrinsic part of the UK’s uplands, and that we’re all responsible for their protection.
On Saturday 8 August, RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is doing a bungee jump to raise money for hen harriers in Bowland. Here she explains why. Ever since I heard about the plight of the hen harrier, I’ve been keen to do my bit. My day job for the RSPB is working as an administrator in our Lancaster office, however, every year we get the chance to volunteer for a day elsewhere in the organisation. In June I used this opportunity to take part in a hen harrier nest watch in Bowland. Following the disappearances of four males from active nests, I was protecting the last remaining one in the area. Seeing the pair hunt against the hillside was a moving experience and I realised the full extent of what these birds are up against. I decided I really wanted to raise the profile of this wonderful bird and what better way to do it than jumping 300ft through the air. Jenn Lane The RSPB is doing all it can to help the hen harrier breed successfully and thrive once again in the face of so many obstacles. Please donate to my JustGiving page today and help save hen harriers from the brink of extinction. https://www.justgiving.com/Jennifer-Lane2/
Anything that draws attention to the plight of these fantastic birds,along with other raptors,must be welcomed with open arms.Our local club's recording area covers a large part of the "Yorkshire black hole for raptors" and we worry every time we get a report of Hen Harriers seen in the area.Not sure what the solution is but our members do keep our eyes and ears open when out on the local moors.
If you haven’t already seen our new Skydancer film, please a spare 10 minutes and watch it here . Made by Northumberland-based Haltwhistle Film Project , we hope it offers an engaging and inspiring introduction to hen harriers and the challenges they face. Filmed in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Derbyshire, the work features interviews from all sides of the hen harrier debate, as well as animations and scenes from last year’s Hen Harrier Day. We would really like to know what you think of the film. Love it or hate it, please email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org . We are going to evaluate the whole Skydancer project later this year and your views will feed into our final report.
This week we hear from the newest member of the Skydancer team who tells us a bit about himself and his new role, as well as giving us an update on our sat-tagged birds, Burt and Highlander. Hello. My name is James Bray and I have just started as the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, and my role will be to help monitor and protect Bowland’s birds of prey. As Bowland has been so important for hen harriers in England over the years, this will be very exciting and challenging work. However, I am very fortunate to be joining an incredibly dedicated and skilled team of volunteers and staff from a range of different organisations. I have been made to feel very welcome and have been really impressed with the expertise and enthusiasm that I have encountered. I previously worked for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in Scotland taking part in a varied range of research projects in a range of habitats and locations. This included monitoring the wader-filled fields of the machair on the Outer Hebrides, and carrying out bird surveys on the high tops of the Cairngorms. One thing that I will not miss is the sitka spruce plantations that we occasionally had to survey – needles is a very appropriate term. I was also responsible for BTO Scotland’s training programme, running bird identification and surveying courses for volunteers, and encouraging more people to take part in bird surveying and monitoring. On my second day of work here, my colleague Gavin Thomas gave me a great introduction to Bowland by taking me to monitor a harrier roost on the edge of Bowland. Clear skies and calm conditions provided beautiful conditions and we were soon watching a couple of ringtail hen harriers drifting over the grassy slopes. I never tire of watching harriers, they are endlessly fascinating as they rock slowly from side to side, flying low over moorland, with bursts of acceleration or sudden stalls quickly followed by a drop to the ground. With a Barn Owl quartering the hillside in the background, my trip out with Gavin was a sensational way to start my time in Bowland. These two photos, taken by a nest camera at one of the successful nests on the United Utilities Bowland estate last year, provide some idea of how spectacular these birds are. Meanwhile, Burt and Highlander, both seem to have taken a liking to their wintering grounds as they are still in the same areas that they have been in since before Christmas, with Highlander on the south-east Lancashire / Yorkshire border, and Burt in Cumbria. It is likely that the relatively mild winter has allowed good numbers of voles to survive in these areas, providing plenty of food for these two birds. It is great to see these two young birds doing so well in their first winter as it is in this period that natural mortality is usually at its greatest. This map shows that their autumn wanderings have given way to a more sedentary period, although they do cover relatively large areas within their wintering grounds. As we look forward a month or two, it is possible that both birds will attempt to breed this year, particularly as so much suitable habitat is available. This is in part due to the rather disgraceful fact that that there are so few hen harriers left in England. As I join the work to try to bring hen harriers back from the brink in England, let’s hope that Burt and Highlander continue to thrive and play a practical part in the species’ future. In the meantime should you be enjoying an early spring foray into the countryside and are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please report it to the hen harrier hotline at email@example.com 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.
Suddenly it’s March (where did February go??), which means that any moment now the breeding season will begin in earnest. And of course the big question is hanging in the air is what will this year hold for hen harriers? I both love and hate this time of year – so much hope, so much possibility, and yet so much trepidation. For the last three seasons, the award-winning Skydancer Project has funded and coordinated RSPB’s hen harrier monitoring and nest protection work in the north of England, and I’m delighted to say that this year, it’s going to be getting an extra boost. Our new Hen Harrier LIFE Project represents an exciting and ambitious, five-year programme of hen harrier conservation, combining direct conservation action with community engagement and awareness-raising measures, to build on and extend the work of Skydancer, both into the future, to 2019, and geographically into southern and eastern Scotland. We talk a lot about hen harriers in England but the reality is that there’s nothing separating hen harriers here from those in Scotland, Wales, or to a certain extent, Ireland or the Isle of Man. Bowland Betty showed us just how wide-ranging hen harriers can be and a few birds have even been tracked as far as France or Spain . Essentially, anything that affects hen harriers in one part of their range is likely to affect the population as a whole, and as birds don’t recognise boundaries, neither should we. The Hen Harrier LIFE Project is unique in being the first truly cross-border conservation initiative for this species. The LIFE Project will focus on seven Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated for breeding hen harriers, two in England and five in Scotland, illustrated below. Although these SPA designations constitute a legally binding government obligation to maintain favourable conservation status, it's worth noting that not one of those listed is currently meeting its designation criteria for hen harriers. It stands to reason that to protect hen harriers inside SPAs, we need to protect them outside SPAs. By funding satellite tags, the LIFE project will enable us to follow these birds wherever they go, facilitating better understanding of their movements and helping to identify where they’re most vulnerable. A few of these tagged birds will be made public each year and you’ll be able to follow their incredible journeys through an interactive map on our project website (watch this space ). By telling these stories, we hope to raise awareness and understanding of hen harriers, encouraging recognition that these magnificent birds "belong" to all of us, and we are all responsible for their protection. Speaking of which, the LIFE project will be aiding direct protection of hen harrier nests and roosts by providing access to remote cameras and other vital monitoring equipment. We’ll also be working closely with the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) to monitor hen harriers populations throughout both breeding and wintering seasons. The project has employed two new Assistant Investigations Officers to focus on hen harriers and the uplands, who will work closely with police and statutory bodies to help address the ongoing issue of illegal persecution and disturbance. It's a universal truth that all good things must come to an end but thanks to LIFE, Skydancer's fantastic community engagement work won’t just fade away when the project finishes in September. The LIFE Project will continue key elements of this work, working with schools, local community groups, and gamekeeping colleges to raise awareness and build support for hen harrier conservation in areas where these birds should be. We’ll particularly be looking for opportunities to work positively with landowners to champion best practice for hen harriers where it occurs. Finally, if Hen Harrier Day last year has taught us anything, it’s that the issue of hen harrier conservation is bigger than any one organisation. So with this in mind, the LIFE project is already working to build links with other hen harrier projects such as Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project , the PAWS Heads Up for Harriers scheme , and the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project ; not to mention the National Parks and AONBs, and other conservation organisations; to develop a coherent conservation network for hen harriers across the project areas. Last year was a big one for hen harriers in England (see here , here , here , and here ), placing this vulnerable bird of prey firmly in the political spotlight. Now, with the deadline for government pre-election shutdown only a few weeks away, it remains to be seen whether any decisions will be made on Defra's proposed Hen Harrier Action Plan (see here for RSPB's stance). Whatever the outcome, both Skydancer and the Hen Harrier LIFE Project stand as clear demonstrations of RSPB's commitment to securing a sustainable future for hen harriers and our willingness to work positively and openly with anyone who feels the same. So here's to 2015 and whatever the breeding season may bring - we're ready for it. For more information on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife
Recently, I’ve been hearing about the fantastic fundraising efforts of the Liverpool Liverbirds RSPB Wildlife Explorers. Leader Elaine Caldwell explains: “Back in September we held a meeting all about hen harriers to raise awareness about these beautiful birds and the problems they are facing, what the RSPB are doing, and what we as a group could do, to help”. And help they have. To raise awareness, Tessa made leaflets about hen harriers and sold them to raise £23.44. Louis, aged 10, and Carys, aged 8, (both pictured below) held a homemade cake sale in their front garden and raised £64.52. Louis said “I really enjoyed selling cakes to give money to a good cause” . Carys agreed: “It was great fun doing our cake sale for the hen harriers and we sold all our cakes.” To collect the money from their fundraising exploits, the group even decorated their own homemade collection tins. Wildlife Explorer member Joel, aged 10, explains why he wanted to fundraise for hen harriers. “When I heard about hen harriers being shot and killed I wanted to do something to help before they are extinct. I did a sponsored bike ride with my brother Rafferty (aged 7) and we raised some money to send in.” Joel and Rafferty (pictured with their homemade collection tins above) rode over 15 miles between them, and raised £69.50. John did a combination of bike riding and cake selling at school and raised £40. The group have also made a poster with hen harrier facts, played Skydancing games, and made hen harrier habitat collages: Liverpool Liverbirds have so far raised over £200, a brilliant achievement! Leader Elaine said: “We have been staggered by the money they have raised. Their activities also helped spread the word about the plight of hen harriers among family, friends, neighbours and classmates, so a great effort and great results all round. We are really proud of their achievements. T he fact they really got behind the campaign in such a big way shows that young people care about nature and are just as passionate about protecting it for the future too. This a great message for us adults to hear”. I couldn’t have put it better myself, well done and a big thank you to the Liverpool Liverbirds - you are all true Hen Harrier Heroes. The Liverpool Liverbirds aren’t the only Wildlife Explorers group who’ve been fundraising for hen harriers - both Macclesfield and Leighton Moss RSPB Wildlife Explorers have too. I’ll tell you more about that soon. So, this is the final year of Skydancer and we have lots of great things coming up that I’m really looking forward to telling you about, but what’s happening after Skydancer? Well, let me set the scene, Blánaid Denman has moved on to project manage a new and exciting hen harrier project funded through LIFE, and with that to whet your appetite I’ll leave Blánaid to tell you more in the next Skydancer blog...
That drawing of a hen harrier is amazing - it's staggering to think that someone of only 8 or 9 years old produced that! I hope the job goes really well, Julie. Looking forward to the next blog.
Hi everyone. This is my first outing on the Skydancer blog so allow me to introduce myself. My name is Julie Chrisp and I have recently started in post as Engagement Officer with Skydancer. I am absolutely delighted to be joining the team - I’m not completely new to Skydancer, I was involved during the development phase of the project - so it’s great to be back to take Skydancer full circle. I started just before Christmas, taking over from Blánaid Denman who had worked in the role since the beginning of Skydancer in 2011 - her time with the project culminating in Skydancer winning Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014. This was a fantastic achievement by Blánaid and the team and quite some shoes for me to fill. Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting regular blogs to keep you up to date with all the exciting community engagement work we’ll be doing through Skydancer with schools, agricultural colleges, community groups and the wider public and telling you all about the fantastic efforts and activities people are undertaking to help hen harriers. My first official duty as Skydancer Engagement Officer was to issue Springfields First School Nature Club, near Stoke-on-Trent, with their Hen Harrier Hero Awards . 21 children from year four were presented with their certificates in a special assembly before Christmas. The children also donated their Nature Club subscription to the Hen Harrier Appeal . To gain their Hen Harrier Hero award the group took part in various hen harrier-themed activities. They drew pictures, wrote stories and poems, made hen harrier posters with five facts about hen harriers that they pledged to show to at least five people. They investigated bird of prey food chains plus the group even staged their own assembly, informing the rest of the school and year four parents about hen harriers. A fantastic effort I’m sure you’ll agree. Image of a female hen harrier Bird of prey food chain Next time, I'll be blogging about the amazing work of the Liverpool Liverbirds RSPB Wildlife Explorers.
This week we welcome guest blogger Findlay Wilde. A passionate young conservationist, Findlay has spent the past year campaigning for hen harriers. Here, he explains how he first got interested in the bird of prey and what he has been doing to help the species. Hen harriers. Aren’t they just magnificent? Whenever I see one, I feel totally “raptorvated”. I can still remember the first time I ever saw a hen harrier. I was out on the North Wales moors. The rain splattered my face and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape. Despite the rain, I resolved to walk even further until a grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past me within 10 metres of where I stood. I gazed at it for as long as I could, before it was a distant speck, gliding easily on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. I was simply captivated and inspired by such a spectacle of nature. As a young conservationist, I understand that there are huge problems facing British wildlife. One of these problems is the illegal persecution of raptors, and especially of hen harriers. As more and more information was being shared by the likes of the RSPB, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Birders Against Wildlife Crime about the declines in our breeding hen harrier population, I knew that this was my next project. I made it my goal to work hard to raise awareness and to try to reach the people who had never even heard of a hen harrier. After experiencing such a wonderful bird out in the wild, it is horrible to think about how they are being purposely killed. I continued to learn all about hen harriers, the good and the bad. People talked about how positive it was to have four breeding pairs in England in 2014 after having none in 2013. But our uplands should support more that 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers, so four pairs is just not acceptable. People I meet at conferences, talks, reserves and events frequently ask why I think saving our English hen harriers is so important. The answer is simple; hen harriers have every right to be dancing in our skies and we have to protect them. I can't understand how people can allow extinction to take place right on their doorstep and not do anything about it. In 2014, I began “Project Harry” to help the RSPB’s Skydancer project. Harry, a 6ft hen harrier, started off as a tiny thought in the back of my mind. He was built and bought to life for a local scarecrow competition in our village. Harry spent four weeks in our living room while his feathers were drying and he then he spent another four weeks on the roof of our house, number 52 in the scarecrow competition. There was a poster put up below him, telling people all about the persecution of raptors. Findlay with Harry the Hen Harrier I quickly realised that Harry was reaching people who hadn’t heard of a hen harrier before and who were shocked to hear about the near extinction of Harry’s English relatives. Harry won the competition and the prize money was given straight to Skydancer. At this point though, I had no idea how amazing the journey I was going to have with Harry would be. On 10 th August 2014, I took Harry to the first ever Hen Harrier Day, organised by Mark Avery, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Chris Packham in the Peak District. It was amazing to see 570 people out in driving rain, coming together to speak out against wildlife crime. Since then, Harry has been to the Rutland Birdfair on the Wildlife Crime Prevention stand, raising even more public awareness. Visitors to the fair were asked to take selfies with Harry and post them on Twitter to keep hen harriers in everyone’s hearts. Findlay with Chris Packham at Hen Harrier Day Harry has also been to BBC Autumnwatch, appearing on Autumnwatch Extra. He was again a great focal point, and it was great for me to be able to talk about hen harriers, persecution and their declines. Currently, Harry is located at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, where he is staying for the rest of the hen harrier winter roost. He is on display for all visitors to see, and every week more Harry selfies appear on Twitter. The RSPB do monthly Skydancers on the Dee events throughout winter to raise awareness about hen harriers. On these days, I get up full of enthusiasm and head off to volunteer with the RSPB’s Dan Trotman and his team. During the afternoon we talk to passersby about hen harriers and, when possible, show the birds to them through the scopes. I really enjoy conversations with all these different people and love watching their faces when they see a quartering raptor close up for the first time. Sometimes though, I admit I get a bit distracted watching across the marsh myself. Hen harrier on the Dee In December, I used a picture of Harry with a snowy background and made Wishing You A Harry Christmas cards. 500 cards were sold in just two weeks and this raised another £525 for Skydancer. More importantly, it got the hen harrier story in to 500 homes over Christmas. Harry was just one small project, but he has made a very big impact. For a while, social media was filled with images of this 6ft imposing giant. I like to think that Harry has inspired people, and that some of them will do something positive to help protect our wildlife. This started out as just a small project and look how it’s turned out. Imagine if we did a larger-scale project; imagine if we all worked on something huge together. I have an idea or two of course! I am not sure what will happen to Harry after his winter roost; I hope he can continue to raise awareness, but I am bursting with great new ideas for the future. I feel more and more confident that all of us; NGOs and other organisations can work together to change things. I for one can’t wait to be a part of the movement making a positive difference and filling the skies with dancers. Read Findlay’s regular blog at http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/ Follow Findlay on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wildeaboutbirds
With little movement from Burt and Highlander since my last update (still residing in North Cumbria and the South Pennines respectively), this blog is simply an excuse to share some photographs (all my own unless stated otherwise) and experiences with you of a place that is really special to me. I’m Lancashire born and bred and always knew Bowland as ‘the place’ for breeding hen harriers in England. It’s a misguided view that I’ve since revised, as ‘the place’ for breeding hen harriers should of course, be our uplands as a whole. So here’s my experiences of just one small corner of our uplands over a few months in the spring and summer a few years ago.... When I started work for the RSPB in April 2005 little did I know that the fifteen pairs of hen harriers that nested in Bowland that year would soon be effectively wiped out. Shocking isn’t it, from fifteen pairs to extinction in less than ten years. My first contract was a joy, essentially I was being paid to go birding, well spend four months surveying and mapping the breeding birds on the United Utilities Bowland Estate to be exact. I’d think nothing of seeing half a dozen hen harriers in a day whilst surveying the moors and on one particularly memorable morning that April, I lay in the heather watching two stunning male harriers skydancing whilst three ringtails quartered the moors below. Spending four months combing 42 square kilometres of the estate gave me such an insight into how special these upland areas are for wildlife. No field guides, video clips, CDs of bird calls, photographs nor any other medium comes close to being in the thick of the action, and I learnt so, so much. As well as daily multiple hen harrier encounters, merlins and peregrines were frequently seen, I literally stumbled on my first ever short eared owl nest, the adult flying up from under my feet leaving three young owlets staring me out. They won. The nest subsequently went on to fledge three healthy shorties. It’s also the first time I experienced their spectacular wing clapping display flights. Short-eared owlets on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. Curlews were widespread and as well as frequent encounters with their sprinting chicks (they’re all leg for the first couple of weeks), provided for me what is the ultimate soundtrack to our uplands, that beautiful, eerie, plaintive, bubbling call that accompanies their parachuting song flight that just can’t be beaten. I challenge anyone to lay amongst the heather on a crisp spring morning taking in the stunning landscape whilst your ears are filled with that most atmospheric of sounds and not be moved by it. It simply lifts the soul. Curlew chick. Golden Plover in breeding plumage. I’d also share my ‘office’ with golden plovers on the high plateaus, resplendent in their black, white and gold spangled finery, a bird transformed from the altogether duller subdued golden browns of winter. The song of ring ouzels would echo around the valleys carrying far and wide and making it difficult to pinpoint the songster, usually perched in isolated rowans on the hillsides whilst whinchats, newly arrived from their sub-Saharan wintering grounds, flitted around areas of bracken setting up territories where the resident and closely related stonechats would allow. Incessant singing skylarks competed with the curlews for the audio crown and ‘ tseep, tseep ’ing meadow pipits were everywhere, scattering from tussocks on every transect I walked, occasionally a bird burst from underfoot in an awkward low, almost scrambling flight across the top of the vegetation with tail spread. I quickly learnt that this behaviour meant the bird had come off a nest and was attempting to get me to follow it – a distraction display to lead me away from the nest. Meadow Pipit nestlings With the meadow pipits providing food for harriers and merlins, the insect life that fed the pipits was there in abundance to the point that every footstep seemed to be onto moving ground, a tide of spiders scuttling out of the way as I placed my feet between tussocks of cotton grass, various mosses, bog asphodel and other-worldly carnivorous sundews. Green hairstreak butterflies, so small and inconspicuous amongst the bilberry and almost impossible to follow in flight were simply exquisite at close range when found motionless, still lethargic in the early morning mists before they warmed up enough to take flight. Golden-ringed dragonflies, our largest species, were an unexpected treat found hawking over some of the smaller rocky streams flowing down the moorland valleys. My steps became a little more tentative after the morning I met a hissing adder in one of the boggier valley bottoms. I could go on for hours and hours but you get the idea, the estate teems with wildlife and for much of the spring and summer I pretty much had it to myself. Wherever they were, the general public just didn’t know what they were missing. Bog Asphodel, Round-leaved Sundew, Green Hairstreak, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Adder. With the wider ecosystem services that such areas provide whether that be carbon storage, flood prevention, recreational walking, hiking, cycling or just taking in the spectacular sights and sounds, it just seems bizarre, selfish perhaps, that anyone would want to damage such places. Not all of our uplands are as diverse as this, especially where the management practises are geared towards intensive production of thousands of red grouse for driven shooting. The United Utilities Bowland Estate....... ....and an intensive driven grouse moor in Scotland In their own right, our uplands deserve the domestic and international protection they are afforded. Whether it is conserving hen harriers or restoring areas of degraded peat, the uplands remain a high priority for the RSPB and other organisations going in to 2015. It is essential that their protection and that of the internationally important habitats and species they support is maintained and effectively enforced. That way, the natural wonders I was privileged to spend the spring and summer of 2005 with, will be available to everybody, wherever they are, for generations to come. So for me, nearly ten years on from my first steps into Bowland’s magical moors, I saw 2014 as a turning point. Whether it was the return of successfully breeding hen harriers to England, the inspiration that was Hen Harrier Day, or Skydancer winning the National Lottery Best Education Project Award, the year’s many highlights have provided us with many positives to build on in 2015. I begin the year with real optimism, so happy new year Skydancer followers, enjoy the photos and let’s make 2015 even better!
Well, after barely any movement from Highlander in recent weeks, she’s ‘done a Burt’ and gone exploring. On 4 th December she headed about eight kilometres north of her usual haunt and roosted on the Pennine fringe east of Colne. Rather than continuing north the following morning she headed west towards the coast and took in the area around the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere on the Lancashire plain. I contacted a couple of the staff there to see if there had been any harrier sightings over that weekend but it seems nobody managed to connect with her. She was still in the area early afternoon of 7 th December but she was heading back east and had arrived back in her usual South Pennines haunt by 14:58 – a distance of over 50 kilometres covered in under two hours. Highlander's movements in December So despite Highlander giving everyone the slip at Martin Mere, Burt has given himself up again in recent weeks. After his trip to Dumfries and Galloway, he was spotted by none other than Norman Holton, our RSPB Senior Sites Manager for Cumbria at our Campfield Marsh reserve on the Solway. On the morning of the 2 nd December, Norm was doing some work in the eastern part of the reserve and was treated to a sighting of a ringtail harrier hunting close by. He was sharp eyed enough to notice that it was satellite tagged and contacted the Skydancer team to find out where the bird had originated from. At the time Norm saw him, Burt was on his way back south, to an area of north Cumbria where he spent a week or so in late November. He’s remained there, not too far from Bassenthwaite since. Burt's movements in December So that’s the latest update on Burt and Highlander’s travels and as 2014 comes to an end, I think it’s worth taking a closer look at where these tagged harriers have been spending much of their time since they fledged from their Bowland Fells nests over five months ago. Sadly Sky and Hope were not able to explore any further than their natal areas due to their untimely disappearances back in September, but their siblings, Highlander and Burt, have been able to spread their wings as their confidence and wandering instincts have developed. Between them they’ve graced six counties in two countries, exploring the upland landscapes of Dumfries and Galloway, the Yorkshire Dales, South Pennines and the Cumbrian Fells. When they’ve spent time away from the uplands, the Solway, the Ribble Estuary and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere have all been visited by these two very special raptors. In case you hadn’t already noticed, all the areas I listed above have something in common. They are all landscapes or sites which have been afforded special protection from statutory designations. From the Bowland Fells Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest where they were born, to the Special Area of Conservation of the Solway and Ramsar site of Martin Mere, these are all areas which are nationally or internationally recognised for their important habitats and species. The Bowland Fells Special Protection Area (SPA) - a special place so designated for its breeding hen harriers - Gavin Thomas RSPB Despite few of these being specifically designated for hen harriers it just underlines how important these protected areas as a whole are for our rarest wildlife. Their attractiveness was clearly demonstrated by Highlander for example when she wandered away from the South Pennines – she’d headed straight to Martin Mere, a wetland oasis within the agriculturally improved landscape of the west Lancashire Plain. Similarly when Burt left Bowland, he headed straight to the multi-designated landscape that is the Ribble Estuary before heading north to the Cumbrian Fells, the Solway and southern Scotland. We’re all too aware of the direct threats to our hen harriers but what about the indirect ones? At a time when it seems that nature as a whole is being given a pretty poor deal, it’s concerning that the very legislation that underpins the protection of these special places, the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, are now under review. Whether it’s protected sites, specific conservation measures for species or wider countryside initiatives such as the agri-environment schemes that are supporting farmers’ efforts in managing areas of their farms for wildlife; it is all potentially under threat from a review of the legislation. You can read more about this here on our conservation director's blog. So if you care about nature and special places then it’s well worth keeping an eye on this review and making sure you have your say, especially at a time when the UK Government seems to be giving nature short shrift. Nature, including hen harriers and the habitats they depend on, needs a voice, therefore it is up to us all to ensure that protecting nature is firmly on the agenda of the decision makers. To help this happen click here . In the meantime should you be enjoying a festive foray into the countryside and are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please report it to the hen harrier hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Autumn and early winter is a great time to look for hen harriers in England. With so few nesting attempts in the country and so few birds out there in summer despite the hundreds of square miles of suitable habitat, the autumn sees numbers swell as harriers begin to disperse from elsewhere. As well as birds from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, harriers are also arriving from abroad. The east coast of England is a particularly good area to encounter them and there have been multiple sightings in recent weeks. It’s possible some of these birds have originated from the near continent, Sweden and Finland for example but without recovering a ringed bird or seeing a bird fitted with wing tags it’s impossible to know for sure. This is where satellite tagging is so useful in learning more about the detailed movements of these birds. With a Scottish tagged bird already making it to northern France, we’ve been hoping our tagged Bowland birds might give the Scottish bird a run for her money. Highlander however has a long way to go to even come close as she seems to have taken on Burt’s sedentary nature and remains faithful to the Pennine moors between Burnley and Bradford. Burt however is now proving quite mobile and has already taken in a new country, Scotland to be precise. Since my last update, when one of our volunteers managed to ‘twitch’ Burt leaving a roost site in Bowland after his satellite tag gave us some fantastic location data, Burt has been on the move. On 18 November, another great series of fixes placed him on the north Ribble marshes where he roosted overnight. These marshes are a fantastic place for wildlife and it’s likely Burt would have found a plentiful food source here in the rough grassland and saltmarsh, an area where many finches, buntings, pipits and larks overwinter and doubtless plenty of small rodents are present. In fact Burt wasn’t the only hen harrier in the area at the time, as on the opposite side of the estuary, a stunning adult male bird was delighting visitors to our Marshside reserve . It seems Burt escaped their attentions though! Ringtail hen harrier hunting passerines over saltmarsh - thanks to Andy Davis for the cracking pic! Despite the estuary’s appeal, Burt didn’t linger and headed up to northern Cumbria where he spent a week on the northern fringe of the Lake District between Carlisle and Bassenthwaite. His next foray was even further north across the border into southern Scotland where he found an area of grass-dominated moorland and conifer plantations west of the M74 near Moffat to his liking. It would be interesting to know whether he encountered any other harriers in this part of the world as he wasn’t too far away from Langholm Moor where a far more natural population of hen harriers successfully nested this year – no fewer than 47 young fledged from 12 nests to be exact! You can find out here exactly why hen harriers are doing so well on this particular moor. Burt’s movements over the past few weeks So as November gave way to December, Burt remained north of the border. Any guesses where he’ll go next? Will he continue north and follow the remarkable track taken by the sadly late Bowland Betty , or will cooler weather halt his travels further north? Will he head south and if so how far? He’s got some way to go if he wants to match the travels of this remarkable hen harrier for starters. I’ll keep you informed.... If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at email@example.com 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.