Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category
It's a turbulent and uncertain time for nature conservation (and everything else) in the wake of last week's EU referendum result. The hen harrier is just one of the schedule 1 species currently afforded protection under the European Birds Directive. What will replace this and other vital pieces of European conservation legislation in the wake of Brexit is yet unknown, however you can read our Chief Executive, Mike Clarke's reaction to the referendum result here . One thing is certain, referendum or no, the emotional rollercoaster that is the hen harrier breeding season rolls on. The Bad News: It is with a heavy heart that only weeks after our beloved Highlander vanished over a moor in Durham, I have to share the news that our one remaining satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, has now also disappeared. Satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, photographed here at RSPB's Wallasea reserve, in 2014 by Tony Orwell. For those who haven't been following this blog, Chance was a female hen harrier, named by RSPB Scotland, who was tagged in June 2014 by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group before the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project began. However, the project followed her movements closely. RSPB staff who were monitoring Chance became concerned when her tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting at the end of May. A search of her last known location, on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor, was carried out by RSPB Investigations staff, but there was no sign of her. It is possible that she could have moved some distance from here before going offline. We don’t know what caused the satellite tag to fail but as with Highlander, transmission up to that point had been strong and there was no indication of battery failure. She has not been found. Needless to say, we are deeply saddened, disappointed and frustrated at the disappearance of Chance. We were looking forward to following her movements, monitoring any nesting attempts, and sharing them on the LIFE+ project website. We had high hopes that now in her second year, this would be the summer she raised a brood of her own. We appeal to anyone who can provide any information about Chance’s disappearance to contact the RSPB in the first instance, or if the circumstances appear suspicious, Police Scotland on 101. You can also read a full statement on Chance's life on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website here . The Good News: Around the same time that Chance disappeared, RSPB staff at our Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria became aware of a female hen harrier hanging around and displaying over the reserve. She was shortly after joined by an immature male, yet we didn't dare hope that anything could come of it so late in the season. I have never been so delighted to be proved wrong. As of late last week, I can now confirm that we have a hen harrier nest with five eggs on Geltsdale, being watched round-the-clock by a team of dedicated wardens, overnight protection staff, and volunteers, armed with the latest remote monitoring technology. This is one of only three active nests in England this year and if successful, these will be the first hen harrier chicks to have fledged from Geltsdale since 2006 - exactly 10 years. A similar nesting attempt last year resulted in failure when the male hen harrier suddenly and inexplicably disappeared while hunting away from the nest. Faced with the prospect of starvation, the female had little choice but to abandon her eggs. With the Government and landowners now officially committed to the recovery of the species through the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan, we have written to our neighbouring estates so they can play their part in helping to ensure that this year's birds are safe when they leave our reserve to hunt. So what next? We have everything crossed for successful hatching and fledging from all three nests and we are doing everything in our power to make that happen. However, with the recent sudden and unexplained disappearances of not one but two satellite tagged hen harriers, it is difficult to feel positive about the prospects of this year's fledgelings once they take off. If this is happening to the satellite tagged birds, what can be said for all those hen harriers that haven't been tagged? Through the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project and with huge support from cosmetics company, LUSH, via the sales of their hen harrier bathbombs, RSPB will be fitting more satellite tags on hen harriers across a wider area this year than ever before. We will also continue to work closely with dedicated volunteers in the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), and with other organisations and individuals to monitor and protect these birds on the ground wherever possible. A wise person once said, "There is more that unites us, than divides us." We all want our hen harriers back.
Good and thanks for the clarification. I thought he meant the coalition groups of the Hen Harrier Actionless Planless-plan. On the ground the RSPB is fantastic at wildlife crime reporting and in the European Courts fighting the government on muirburn and habitat destruction on grouse moors but as far as the Hen Harrier Day the RSPB has previously been quite luke-warm and distinctly frozen against the rapidly growing movement to ban driven grouse moors and end raptor crime on the uplands for ever. The RSPB is hardly leading the way for these 'rapidly growing coalition of groups' but belatedly riding on the coat-tails of HH day. The RSPB needs to be leading the way rather than being part of the problem in supporting the legalization of the crime of brood movement and contrary to international guidelines supporting the re-introduction of Hen Harriers in the lowlands before the source of the killings has been removed.
Prasad - As mentioned on Martin Harper's blog yesterday, a great way for you to find out more and get involved would be to come along to one of the 11 Hen Harrier Day events being held across England and Scotland on the 6-7 August. These events have grown year on year since they started in 2014 and are a coming together of people who care deeply about hen harriers and want to see an end to the persecution that's keeping them from our hills. To find out more about your nearest event and see photos from previous years, visit henharrierday.org.
Blánaid you quote James Bray as saying 'a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals are fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey.’ Please could you tell me more about these wonderful groups?
Please could James Bray explain who he means by 'a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals .. fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey' I would like to know more about these wonderful groups of people and how i can join them.
Just over a week ago, I shared with you the incredible story of Chance, a young female hen harrier who surprised us all with her continental winter migrations. Today however, I have another story to share – another female hen harrier, fledged in 2014, the same year as Chance, this time from the Forest of Bowland, where the RSPB have been working in partnership with the water company, United Utilities, local raptor workers and others to protect and monitor hen harriers since the 1980s. Satellite-tagged and “adopted” by children from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School alongside her sister, Sky, the name Highlander is one that long-time readers of this blog might recognise. However in April this year, while Chance was in France readying herself to cross the Channel again, Highlander’s satellite tag suddenly stopped transmitting and she joined her sister in the ranks of the "disappeared". Those closest to Highlander’s journey over the last two years have endured both incredible highs and crushing lows in the process, and it feels only right that you should hear her story from them. Steve Downing is a long-time member of the voluntary Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and has been working with hen harriers for over a decade. I started working with hen harriers in 2004 so 2014 was my 10 th anniversary monitoring and protecting hen harriers, England most persecuted bird of prey. Fellow raptor workers often say that they wish that they had hen harriers in their study area and I always caution ‘be careful for what you wish for’. The emotional rollercoaster associated with monitoring this species is intense and the rewards are few and very far between. Harrier nest protection can be soul destroying with the watchers sitting about a kilometre away from the nest, in all weathers, recording adult activity in minute detail. The effort from all of the volunteers, day shift and night crew is truly monumental. Following two years without a single nest in Bowland, Spring 2014 got off to a good start with a phone call to say that birds were back on territory; great but would they breed? Several days later a text arrived from Mick, RSPB Assistant Warden and Bowland Raptor Study Group member. A female was down incubating eggs and we arranged to meet on the United Utilities estate a few days later. Being one of only a handful of people licensed to do so in England, it is both a tremendous privilege to fit BTO leg rings on the young of this iconic species and a great responsibility. At 11 am on the 23 June Mick and I visited the nest under licence. It contained five healthy looking chicks and after sharing a smile we set to work, preparing the way for Stephen Murphy, Natural England Hen Harrier Project Officer, to fit the satellite tags to two of the chicks. Sisters Sky (left) and Highlander (right) having their satellite tags fitted, July 2014. (Image: Mick Demain) By the time the satellite tags were fitted the chicks were almost ready to fly free and local school children had given the tagged birds names. They had named a female from nest one Sky and her sister was named Highlander. What a fantastic names for birds whose home was 380m high in the Forest of Bowland. Two more satellite-tagged birds from the only other nest in Bowland that year were given the equally inspirational names of Hope and Burt. By late summer all of the Bowland chicks were flying free and hunting for their own food. It was good news that they had got so far. Unfortunately on the 10 September 2014 the satellite tag fitted to Sky, Highlander’s sister, inexplicably stopped working. The emotional rollercoaster had taken a dive but things got worse when Hope, from the neighbouring nest suffered the same fate on the same moor just three days later. I had held those birds, weighed them, measured them and ringed them a few weeks earlier and now they had joined the " disappeared" . The other two sat-tagged birds, Burt and Highlander, were still alive but how many of the untagged birds were also dead? The full story of Sky and Hope can be found here and here . Despite an extensive search and appeals for information, they were never found. As autumn turned to winter, the signal from Burt's satellite tag became gradually less frequent, indicating a likely problem with the battery. His last confirmed transmission was received on 26th December from a location in Exmoor National Park where he was wintering. Sadly, he hasn't been seen since. James Bray started as RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer in February 2015. Working in partnership with United Utilities, monitoring and protecting hen harriers on their estate in the Forest of Bowland is a key part of James’ role. Following her first winter, Highlander was first seen back in Bowland in late March on the slopes where she was born. With four pairs having settled down and with Highlander having found a mate, the team were incredibly excited. Highlander was paired with a bird that was in its third year. It was a grey bird that still retained some brown feathers on its back, so we were able to identify it from the other males present on the estate. The pair settled in a small valley and began making a nest, bringing dead heather stems in to make a flimsy platform on the ground amidst a stand of deep heather. Soon after she had begun incubating her eggs disaster struck – her mate suddenly disappeared. He was the first of four male hen harriers that had females incubating eggs on the United Utilities estate to disappear. The female hen harrier does all the egg incubation and relies on the male to feed her. If he disappears she must leave the nest to hunt and the eggs will chill and die. Showing great determination to breed, Highlander stayed in her chosen valley and within a few days of her first mate disappearing she had managed to attract the attentions of another younger male. Highlander was soon back in her original nest and following a licensed nest visit, fieldworkers found that she had laid nine eggs. This was incredible as historically, only a tiny number of harriers have ever laid nine eggs in one nest. Not all the eggs would have hatched but this demonstrated how strong Highlander was. Highlander's second nesting attempt with an incredible 9 eggs. (Image: James Bray, 2015) As the days of her second attempt passed it became clear that her mate was struggling to provide for her. Hen harriers can be polygamous, and this male was already paired with another female who was on eggs. The strain proved too much and Highlander, being the secondary female, was deserted and she had to leave her eggs to feed herself. Her second nesting attempt had failed. Obviously fed up of Bowland, Highlander headed off to southern Scotland and following two failed breeding attempts, we really thought that that would be the end of her first breeding season. A week later I received a very excited call from my colleague Mick who was monitoring a lone male harrier; he had attracted a female! This young male, in his first breeding season, had been skydancing on his own for over a week, and Mick told me that he had not seen a male displaying so vigorously before. The first day that the female was in his valley he brought her six items of food over the course of the day but she completely ignored his advances. Over the next couple of day the two birds began to bond and were soon showing signs of nesting. We were obviously ecstatic that he had attracted a potential mate, and even more so when we saw that the female was carrying a satellite tag, and that its transmission confirmed that it was Highlander. The birds settled down, Highlander laid her third clutch of the season, and we all held our breaths. Monitoring nesting hen harriers is often a game of hope and patience. Hope that ground predators do not find the nest, hope that bad weather does not have an effect on food supplies, and hope that the male returns after each hunting expedition. Patience is also required as it takes nearly a month for the eggs to hatch. And so as that month passed with no problems for the birds and with the male regularly bringing in food we began to count down the days. 6 July was the special day, as this was the day that food was first seen being carried into the nest, a sure sign that Highlander’s first chicks had hatched. That next week was very special as the male was proving to be a very good provider of food and many of our volunteers and staff took turns watching the valley and looking out for food passes as the male returned. Five days later, on the day that the last egg would have hatched, disaster struck. Highlander and her mate were seen flying low over the nest diving at something on the ground. Mick and a colleague checked the nest to find that it had been cleaned out, most probably by a small ground predator such as a stoat or weasel. Heartbreakingly despite all her efforts, Highlander’s first breeding season had ended in failure, thwarted by her first male “disappearing”, then by a lack of food, and finally by nest predation. Highlander's third nesting attempt ended in predation. (Image: James Bray, 2015) Highlander spent the autumn and winter of 2015 and early 2016 within 30 miles of Bowland. As spring approached she returned to Bowland for brief visits but the vole population is at a very low level unfortunately, and harriers that have visited have not stayed long. Highlander was no different. I was with three visitors to Bowland when she paid her last visit to the valley in which she was born. We watched a female harrier quartering the hillside, and as she came closer I saw the satellite tag – Highlander was here. We hoped that she’d stay but that was the last time that she was seen in Bowland. Sister to a missing sibling, partner to a missing mate, and three nest failures in the space of two months, our Highlander endured through it all. However, on 16 April 2016, Highlander’s satellite tag suddenly and unaccountably ceased transmission. The last signal received placed her in County Durham but it's possible she may have moved on from the area before going offline. We don’t know what caused the satellite tag to fail but transmission up to that point had been strong and there was no indication of battery failure. She has not been found. A final word from Steve... 2014 was my 10 th anniversary working with hen harriers and was supposed to be celebration of success. It was not. In 2014 I ringed nine birds in Bowland. Four were sat-tagged and all stopped transmitting, long before the sat tags reached their anticipated ‘end of life’. Male hen harriers are often called ‘ghosts of the hills’ because of the colour of their plumage and the way the fly. It is supposed to be a compliment but in reality it is not; they are ghosts. It makes me very sad, it should make every reasonable person sad. A final word from James... All the staff and volunteers here feel great anger that Sky, Hope, Burt, and Highlander are no longer quartering the English uplands, anger that there is only a tiny handful of hen harriers nesting in England in 2016, and anger at the persecution on some grouse shooting estates which results in there being no skydancing harriers over our hills. We must turn that anger into a determination to stop persecution of birds of prey. We can find hope in the knowledge that the RSPB is doing all it can to protect hen harriers and that a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals are fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey. And we must hold on to the hope that hen harriers, as they have proved before, are more than capable of returning to the English uplands – our job is to ensure that the habitat conditions are right for them and that persecution is stopped. Find out more about our work to monitor and protect hen harriers through Hen Harrier LIFE Project, and follow the fortunes of our satellite tagged birds by visiting our website rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or following us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .
Our last Skydancer blog focused on the sad fate of the young satellite-tagged hen harrier, Lad, who barely a month after fledging, was found dead in the Cairngorms National Park, brought down by injuries “consistent with the damage caused by shooting” (see here ). Today however, I’m delighted to have a much happier story to share – our remaining satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, has returned home! Chance is a female hen harrier who was satellite-tagged by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and fledged from a nest in Southwest Scotland in June 2014. Although this was just before the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project began, the project has been following her movements since it launched and the story that has unfolded is a remarkable example of just how wide-ranging and unpredictable hen harriers can be. Chance displaying her satellite tag at RSPB Wallasea reserve, October 2014. Image (c) Tony Orwell Having spread her wings in the late summer around the Scottish borders, she slowly made her way south, exploring the uplands of Northern England before being spotted at RSPB’s Wallasea reserve in Essex in October 2014. There we thought she’d stay but the south of England clearly wasn’t far south enough for this adventurous bird and by the end of that month, she had crossed the Channel and set up home in the Pay de Loire region of Northern France! Come April 2015, Chance was showing every sign of staying put but in late May, she surprised us all by crossing the Channel once more and heading north, briefly to Scotland and ultimately settling down to spend her summer exploring the hills of Northeast England. Chance's route south from Northumberland to France took only three days, in October 2015. Her rapid return journey north from France to Scotland took just four days, in May 2016. When autumn came this time, there was no hanging about. In October 2015 Chance flew from Northumberland, via South Wales, back to Northern France in the space of just three days! Now, after another winter of watching and waiting, Chance has returned to the UK once more, this time taking just four days to travel up the east coast of England and back to where she started in Southwest Scotland. From Scotland to England, Wales, and France, the remarkable journey of this young female is an important reminder that if we want to truly secure a future for hen harriers in any one part of the UK, they need to be protected throughout the whole of it. Increased satellite tagging through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project is playing a vital role in this by helping us to better understand where hen harriers go and to highlight where they're most at risk. It’s incredible to think that without satellite tagging, we would never have had the faintest idea of the incredible journey our Chance was undertaking every winter. So now she’s back, what next? As a second year bird, there’s every possibility Chance will attempt to breed this year but with her late arrival on the scene, will she find a mate in time? Follow her fortunes on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website as we map her movements every two weeks and follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .
By Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, Scotland Lad was a male hen harrier who was fitted with a LIFE+ Project satellite tag by licensed RSPB staff on 16 th July 2015, a few days before he fledged from a nest on an estate owned by Wildland Ltd in the Cairngorms National Park, in southern Inverness-shire. After fledging in late July, Lad stayed close to the nest area until the last week of August, when he then moved a short distance away from the estate where he was tagged. Photo credit: Dave Pullan Only a few days later, on 3 rd September, RSPB staff monitoring the transmissions from Lad’s tag became concerned that he had stopped moving in an area of moorland, still within the National Park, near Newtonmore. On the 10 th , with further transmissions confirming he was dead, RSPB Scotland Investigations staff visited the area after informing the police, and found Lad’s body lying face down in the heather. The carcass was recovered, the police were informed, and Lad’s remains were delivered to the SRUC Veterinary laboratory near Penicuik the following day. Photo credit: RSPB Investigations We received the preliminary post mortem report from the laboratory a few days later. It stated: “The skin was split open on the left side of the neck parallel with the jugular groove. There was haemorrhage in the subcutaneous tissues in this area and a horizontal split in the trachea. There was damage to three feathers of the right wing consisting of a single groove mark perpendicular to the shaft of each feather.” The body was then X-rayed. The subsequent follow-up SRUC post mortem report from 29 th September stated: “Despite the failure to identify metallic fragments within the carcase the appearance of the damage to the wing feathers is consistent with damage caused by shooting. The injury to the neck could be explained by a shot gun pellet passing straight through the soft tissue of the neck. Both injuries could have brought the bird down and proved fatal.” Copies of the preliminary and follow-up post mortem reports were immediately passed to Police Scotland. RSPB Scotland understands that the police have subsequently had meetings with representatives of several estates located in the vicinity of where Lad’s body was recovered. We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Wildland Ltd who gave permission and access to fit the satellite tag on Lad, staff at the SRUC Veterinary laboratory for undertaking the post mortem work and to Police Scotland for their follow-up to this case. We are of course saddened that the sudden death of Lad has deprived us of the opportunity to follow his travels through Scotland and beyond, and maybe go on to raise chicks of his own. We wish to appeal to anyone who can provide any information about Lad’s untimely and early death to contact Police Scotland on 101.
Last summer, we fitted a satellite tag to a male hen harrier chick at a nest in Northumberland. He was named Nile by our Investigations team. We were able to track his movements south to Salisbury Plain over the autumn, and along with records from the Wiltshire Ornithological Society, his tag revealed new winter roosting and foraging areas for hen harriers in the area. Nile with his satellite tag fitted (photo credit: RSPB Investigations) The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) - responsible for managing and maintaining the MoD’s land and properties - has been working with its tenants for many years to implement management measures at known roost sites to improve conditions for hen harriers. The new information from Nile’s tag will allow the DIO to implement further measures in these new areas to make their land even better for these spectacular birds. Sadly, not long after migrating across the channel to northern France, data for Nile’s tag showed that he had died. We organised a search for his body, but unfortunately it could not be found so we will never know his cause of death. Although we are gutted that we were not able to follow Nile’s progress further, it’s heartening to know that information from his satellite tag will help protect roosting harriers in future.
Guest blog by Simon Wotton, RSPB Conservation Science There will be a full survey of breeding hen harriers in the UK and Isle of Man in 2016. The last national survey of this UK red-listed species of conservation concern was in 2010, when the population was estimated at 662 territorial pairs (95% confidence interval, 576–770), an 18% decline in the population between 2004 and 2010. The population decreased in parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man, and remains at very low levels in England. The survey will provide updated estimates of population size and national and regional trends since 2010. As a high profile species of great conservation concern, current information on status across the UK range is vital. In Scotland, the survey is being organised by RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Survey coverage will be organised in coordination with the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Non-random ‘census’ coverage of core areas will be carried out by volunteers, and randomly selected 10km squares will be surveyed in the rest of the range, by RSPB fieldworkers. The survey area (the species’ known range) has been defined using results of the last survey and the Bird Atlas 2007-11, consultation within the RSPB and with the statutory conservation agencies, and by approaching Raptor Study Groups for their knowledge and details of the “core areas” for hen harrier that they usually monitor. Planned survey coverage in Scotland, by volunteers and RSPB fieldworkers. Elsewhere, it is expected that complete coverage will be achieved of all suitable 10km squares within the Hen Harrier range in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The other survey partners are Natural England, Northern England Raptor Forum, Natural Resources Wales, Manx BirdLife and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group. Field surveys will follow the well-established two to three visit method between late March and the end of July, giving the advantage of good comparability with previous surveys. If no birds have been seen, or breeding has not been confirmed, during the first two visits, a third visit may be made between late June and the end of July.
Can we have a shower gel as well? I don't like baths but I do love hen harriers.
Can we have a shower gel as well? I don't like baths but I do love hen harriers.
Guest blog by Paul Morton – Lush Campaigns, to celebrate raising £100,000 for satellite tagging of hen harriers over the coming years. It’s always good to start off a story with a bit of nostalgia, especially when one of your favourite birds is involved. Baz Luhrmann (remember him? No? Sunscreen? oh never mind) famously philosophised that nostalgia is a form of advice that you drag up from the past and distribute to unsuspecting victims. Well, I’m glad that an experience I had when I was 10 years old enabled me to advise 33 year old me to take note and remember that wildlife, nature and particularly male hen harriers are beautiful….never to be forgotten (or lost). You see, I live on the edge of Poole Harbour, a stones throw away from RSPB Arne Nature Reserve, a great place for winter birds of prey, then and now. 10 year old me was sat in the Shipstal Hide with my mum, watching avocets, curlew and redshank, when a gentleman with a scope sat next to me shouted out 'HEN HARRIER!'. Now, one of my favourite hobbies was reading my Collins Field Guide over and over and I had a mental note in my head of all birds I was expecting to see in Poole Harbour during my life time and hen harrier certainly wasn’t on that list (neither was great northern diver, ring ouzel or red kite to be perfectly honest with you)! Slightly puzzled, I asked if I could take a look and what I saw I’ll never forget. A male hen harrier quartering along the spartina fringes of Gold Point, a finger of land that points out into the harbour. Star struck and speechless I watched it for what seemed like hours but must have only been seconds before it carried on over the marsh and behind the woodland never to be seen again. I felt like I had won in life already and nothing could better this experience….ever! Fast-forward 15 years and I somehow managed to wangle a job at RSPB Arne nature reserve as an Information Officer, a job that required me to educate and enthuse people about the reserves wildlife...and enthuse I did. I was at Arne for two years and loved my time there, saw some amazing things and met some incredible people. Yet, without doubt, my highlight at Arne would be bunking off 20 minutes early (sorry Lynne) during the winter, and going to watch hen harriers before they went into roost. A spectacle that still needs me to pick my jaw up off the ground after the birds have gone to bed. Anyone that knows me will know I can get a little over excited and distracted when it comes to birds and wildlife and get so pent up with excitement, adrenaline and anxiety - often all at the same time! Luckily I’ve learnt to channel these emotions by campaigning for change and action. Fast-forward another four years and I’m sat with the Lush campaigns team (which is where I spend a percentage of my work time) and we’re discussing campaign ideas. For some people (including me prior to working for them) it may come as a surprise just how strong Lush are as a campaigning organisation, fighting hard for human rights, animal welfare and environmental injustice. When it was announced in 2014 that only four pairs of hen harrier had successfully bred in England we felt compelled to get involved to try and help promote the issue to our customers. A campaign was set up through all our UK Lush shops, where we provided a website for people to get all the info they needed about this illegal activity, as well as a politely worded postcard for people to sign….destination Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the month more than 20,000 Lush customers signed postcards and added their voice to our plea for the illegal killing to stop. This was ‘high street conservation’ at its very best and we even got to take a trip up to Buckingham Palace to hand over the signed postcards. Surprisingly they didn’t open the main front gates for us and welcome us through with a horned fan fair, rather they let us in through the small side gate along Buckingham Palace Road, you know…the entrance where they deliver the fish. Still, our and the public's message was clear and we all kept our fingers crossed and our breath held. One year on and what had changed? Well, not a lot to be honest. There was a slight rise in Hen Harrier breeding success from four to six pairs, but at the same time five adult males had ‘disappeared’ from active nests during the breeding season and it seemed we were back to square one. It also seemed the obvious approach was to work with and help the RSPB with their Hen Harrier Life+ project by raising enough money to try and satellite tag as many Hen Harrier chicks as possible over the coming years. OVER TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC… In July 2015 (and with less than a week's notice), the Lush manufacturing team designed and built a prototype bath bomb in the shape of a male hen harrier against a setting sun, which looked and smelt incredible. Admittedly, the prototype was about the size of a dinner plate, so after a quick re-design and tweak, our product was ready and we were now almost ready to throw the challenge over to the public to start raising money for hen harrier conservation. There was one small problem, we didn’t have a name for our Sicilian lemon and liquorice masterpiece, so over to Chris Packham to come up with a name…."Skydancer – Far from the Madding Guns". Skydancer went on sale in early August 2015 and here we are only seven months later having now raised £100,000 for hen harriers thanks to the wonderful support of our Lush customers. We’re over the moon with this result, and can’t thank everyone enough for their contribution towards this campaign. So to finish off, do I think we’ll see a rise in breeding hen harriers over the coming five, ten, fifteen years? Well, yes I do. Not just because I’m a hopeless optimist but because I also believe in the power of people. Right across the country there are people fighting for this cause and all it needs is a little co-ordination, lateral thinking and dogged determination to fight for our environment and its hen harriers now and in years to come. ...... The LIFE Project would also like to thank the Lush staff involved in running an awareness-raising event with local RSPB staff at the Aberdeen store on 20th and 21st February where another 88 bath bombs were sold, proceeds of which have gone to the cause.
As some of you may be aware, the hen harrier was awarded Countryfile’s Conservation Success of the Year last month: http://www.countryfile.com/explore-countryside/places/wildlife-success-story-year-201516 Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) received the award on behalf of the species for their hard work raising awareness of the birds’ plight at their conference in Bristol last weekend. Here is a photo of the guys from Birders Against Wildlife Crime (from left to right: Charlie Moores, Lawrie Phipps and Phil Walton) with the award. Photo credit: Guy Shorrock
Very sad to hear of the loss of one of the few,if it can be proved her death was natural at least it will be one crime less to an ever growing list.
If you have been following the movements of our satellite tagged birds on our website, you will have noticed that we lost Holly in mid-October 2015, quite soon after she was featured. Needless to say, the project team were gutted as we were looking forward to following her travels and sharing them with you. You can read about her story here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/holly.html Photo credit: John Simpson As soon as her satellite tag data showed us she had died, we went to the site– an area of upland farmland and forestry to the north east of Glasgow - to look for her. We searched the area thoroughly but, unfortunately, we were unable to locate her. This is disappointing as we would have wished to submit the body to a government laboratory for a post mortem examination to try to establish how she died. Survival rates for young harriers like Holly are low, with only around 1 in 3 surviving to a year old. These youngsters will often die of natural causes such as starvation, but we cannot speculate as to the cause of death in her case. We will of course provide an update if any further information comes to light.
By Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland There is no denying that the hen harrier is one of our most spectacular and enigmatic birds of prey. It breeds in remote, out-of-the-way locations, often in the uplands, miles away from the biggest centres of human population. For me, it’s a bird that never fails to lift my spirits, one that always brightens a day out birding or hill-walking. I’ve been lucky. I was brought up in Aberdeen, and as a teenager going through my birding formative years in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, was fortunate to be there at a time when the North-east Scotland Raptor Study Group (NERSG) was in the process of being created. The hills and glens of Deeside became a second home to me for several springs, with the chance of seeing golden eagles, merlins and peregrines. But, the monitoring of breeding hen harriers was always one of the highlights. My dominant memory of those days was being invited along one day to help with ringing the chicks at three nests in one of the glens that went off to the south of the main Dee valley. I’d never been to a harrier nest before, and could barely contain my excitement! I’d watched the adults on several occasions from a mile or so away, so the opportunity to see these birds up close was brilliant. But, at every nest, there were no chicks. There were no adult birds around. There were cold, dead eggs. “They’ve been done.” said one of my colleagues. At that time, I suppose, on reflection, I’d little concept of what that really meant. But fast-forward 35 years, and I now lead the RSPB Investigations team in Scotland, I know exactly what it meant, and days like that are why I do this job. A paper that I’m sure will be of great interest to many, but is particularly so to me personally, has just been published in the journal British Birds .“The past, current and potential status of breeding Hen Harriers in North-east Scotland”  is a testament to the incredible efforts of a number of people in the NERSG in monitoring the fortunes of this species over the last 35 years. Several of the authors had been undertaking harrier monitoring before my first forays into the Aberdeenshire hills, and they continue to do so. It is however a depressing story that this paper tells. A peak population of 28 pairs in the area in the early 1990’s had declined to only one confirmed breeding pair by 2014. Year after year, raptor workers carry out hundreds of hours of unpaid fieldwork, driven on solely by their commitment to the conservation of their chosen species. And every year, raptor nests fail and adult birds disappear. It’s widely acknowledged that bad weather, food shortage and predation are factors in breeding attempts being unsuccessful. But we also all know that places like the moors of north-east Scotland, the southern uplands around the Borders, and the Peak District of northern England are areas where food for harriers is abundant. These are also the areas where we’re told that upland breeding waders are thriving because of the intensive predator control regimes undertaken by sporting estates. So, if there’s plenty of available food, abundant nesting habitat, very low numbers of predators and other ground-nesting species like waders (and grouse!) are doing well, why are hen harriers doing so badly in these areas? The answer is pretty simple – persecution. What proof is there of this? There have been very few proven recent cases of illegal killing of hen harriers... This is indeed true. But when you have a very small population, you’re not likely to get many proven cases of persecution. The damage has already been done. Raptor populations cannot withstand a level of attrition where year after year, adults are killed or nests destroyed. Suffice to say that in 2013, when the population of hen harriers in NE Scotland, as listed in this study, was only four confirmed pairs, by sheer luck, birds were witnessed being shot at two nest sites. In both cases, the perpetrators removed the dead harrier. That’s no surprise as why would a criminal want to leave evidence of their crime lying around to be found? But, many birds are being killed out of sight of witnesses? Population studies such as this give you a good idea. From 2004 to 2010, the population of hen harriers in Scotland fell by 22% to 525 pairs. In 2011, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee published “A conservation framework for hen harriers”  . The conclusions of this piece of work were that the potential hen harrier population of Scotland was estimated to be within the range 1467–1790 pairs, but that there was strong evidence that, in the uplands of eastern and southern Scotland, illegal persecution was causing the failure of the majority of breeding attempts, leading to fewer breeding birds and/or fewer successful nests. It was depressingly predictable that certain organisations that claim to represent land management interests dismissed the conclusions of this report, in part by claiming the findings were out of date. The good news for them is that the Hen Harrier framework has been revised, and is due for publication, hopefully very soon. I wonder if this revised version will elicit different conclusions? Or will this latest piece of work, monitoring and documenting the hen harrier population of NE Scotland be similarly disputed by those who are part of the denial culture that seemingly pervades much of the game bird shooting industry? But, I have news for those that seek to undermine the efforts of those who are out in all weathers monitoring Scotland’s birds of prey, and bringing the decline of these magnificent birds to the public’s attention. This report’s findings are the reality. I know. I’ve been there.  Rebecca, G., Cosnette, B., Craib, J., Duncan, A., Etheridge, B., Francis, I., Hardey, J., Pout, A., and Steele, L. (2016) The past, current and potential status of breeding Hen Harriersin North-east Scotland. British Birds 109: 77– 95  Fielding, A., Haworth, P., Whitfield, P., McLeod, D. & Riley, H. (2011) A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. JNCC Report 441. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
This week, we have a very special guest blog from Tristan Reid who is undertaking a challenge of epic proportions, all for hen harriers. Please support him in his effort! .............................................................................................................................................................................. My name is Tristan Reid and I am a very passionate conservationist. I have been raising funds for wildlife conservation projects both in the UK and abroad for a good few years now. I am about to embark on a two year project to raise funds and awareness for the Hen Harrier LIFE Project. The hen harrier is a species that is very close to my heart as it is a bird I used to see frequently during my early adult life on the uplands of Perthshire. I now live in Cumbria and spend a lot of time in the Lake District National Park and the North Pennines in what should be prime breeding habitat for hen harriers. Sadly seeing one of these species in the breeding season has become a very rare sight indeed. The plight of the hen harrier is a sad story in its own right; but it is also indicative of the unnecessary negative impacts caused my man on an ever growing list of wildlife species. I decided that I had to do something significant to raise awareness of the hen harrier’s plight in England. My plan is to run all 268 miles of the Pennine Way non-stop! As if this mileage wasn’t a big enough ask; the 268 mile route includes over 30,000 ft of ascent over some of the toughest terrain in the country! This is going to be a very tough adventure which is the main reason I will be giving myself two years to train for it! The choice of using this route as my challenge rests in its relevance to the cause. The Pennines should be home to hundreds of pairs of breeding hen harriers; but unfortunately only a handful are still extant (and often sporadic in their occurrence). As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said ‘If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough’. This challenge certainly terrifies me; and it is most certainly big enough! I will spend the next two years training hard by entering many tough ultra-marathons of increasing distances (you can see my 2016 schedule here: http://www.trisreid.co.uk/94-2/ ) as well as training with sleep deprivation and tired legs! This is going to be a very tough challenge; but one worth doing for such a necessary cause. You can keep track of my progress via my facebook page (here: https://www.facebook.com/runningforhenharriers/ ) and via my twitter feed (here: http://www.twitter.com/thetrisreid ). You can also show support by donating to the Hen Harrier LIFE project via my Just Giving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/HenHarriers Photo credit: James Kirby
Happy new year everyone! I'm happy to say that we're starting 2016 with some exciting news. Young wildlife campaigner Findlay Wilde has kindly donated his Ecotricity Young Green Britain Award winnings to fund a satellite tag for the Hen Harrier LIFE Project. You can read a guest blog by Ecotricity on Finn's own blog (Wilde About Birds) here: http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/guest-blog-from-ecotricity-hen-harrier.html
What with all the storms passing through recently, I can’t help but think of how hard it must be for our wintering hen harriers to survive out there. Luckily we know our hen harrier Chance is safe in France and data from her satellite tag shows that she has settled for the winter, north-east of Le Mans. It’s likely she’s found an area with a good supply of food. You can follow her movements here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/chance.html Photo: Chance's wintering location in France Some of our other satellite tagged birds in 2015 were not so lucky. In Bowland this year, one of our satellite tagged birds died along with two of its siblings before fledging the nest. The post-mortems and other tests on the three chicks, including the satellite tagged bird, were inconclusive – they had been partially eaten but we don’t know whether they were predated or scavenged. Our camera footage shows that the juveniles were alive at least two days after tagging and the weather was fair. The close proximity of the three bodies doesn’t suggest predation. We therefore suspect that they succumbed to either disease or starvation and were subsequently scavenged. Happily the fourth chick in the nest did survive and fledged successfully. Some of you may also remember Hetty, a young female satellite tagged on the Isle of Man in July. Sadly she died about a month later and her body was found by our Investigations Team, 2km from her nest site. Again, post mortem results were inconclusive but she likely died of natural causes. Young harriers do find it hard to survive and we know the added threat of illegal persecution makes reaching adulthood even harder. This is why satellite tagging birds is necessary, so that we are able to retrieve bodies and send them for testing to work out the cause of death. Sat tags also allow us to identify important areas for hen harriers when they are alive and track the birds’ movements to understand their ecology. If you agree satellite tagging is important and want to do something to help, Lush are still selling their hen harrier bath bombs over the Christmas period, proceeds of which directly fund our satellite tagging work! Pop along to your local store for some stocking fillers – or just go online: https://www.lush.co.uk/products/bath-bombs/skydancer-far-madding-guns Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a hen harrier-filled 2016! Ps you can listen to the RSPB’s Graham Jones on the Talking Naturally podcast about the plight of hen harriers and the RSPB’s commitment to help save the species about 34 minutes in here: https://soundcloud.com/talkingnaturally/tn-ep-016-politics-hen-harriers-and-activism